Release Date – 18th March 2022, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Director – Craig Roberts
Humble working class family man and shipyard worker Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) finds himself playing ‘professionally’ in the 1976 British Open, having never played a round of golf in his life.
Maurice Flitcroft has been labelled the world’s worst golfer. And while some claim that he wasn’t a golfer at all there’s no denying that he certainly gave the sport a go. It’s the spirit that The Phantom Of The Open – adapted by Simon Farnaby from his biographical book of the same name – embraces and runs with throughout as it sees the working class shipyard worker, have a crack at the 1976 British Open. He’s managed to enter professionally; after having ticked the box and having that simply accepted, despite having never played a round of golf in his life, and has his heart set on making the most of his time there; revealing the colour of his golfing outfit like Superman unleashing his iconic ‘S’ logo. What unfolds is a standard British underdog tale. A charming enough feature with plenty of typical British humour to carry it along the way.
Perhaps the force that brings us in to the piece the most is Mark Rylance in the leading role. With his softly-spoken northern accent you don’t completely notice just how good and charming he is, or the fact that he’s apparently meant to be 46, as he manages to be perfectly wrapped up within the tone and heart that the film, and indeed he, creates. He’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast of British faces including supportive wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) and irritated tournament head Lambert (Rhys Ifans), almost furious at the mockery that Flitcroft appears to be making of the competition. He causes a spiral of events for the innocent family man that see him almost shut out of any opportunity to have a go at his newfound passion, simply adding to his determination to simply have a go.
Throughout the film the 70s vibe is certainly felt. Not just from a slightly odd ream sequence that we see early on, the start of Maurice’s fascination, but in the general design and feel. It somehow intensifies the overall British feel of the piece as each of the characters within the Flitcroft family strive to achieve their own dreams, although some away from the core family unit where the other member are seen as slight oddities that could put them at a disadvantage in a successful business-life; the case for eldest son Mike (Jake Davies). He contrasts greatly to his twin brothers (Jonah and Christian Lees) who find themselves competing in major competitions as a disco duo. With such strands you can generally tell where the film is likely to go due to a sense of familiarity and slight convention, particularly as they reach and build up to slightly more sentimental moments, even if things are pitched as they may have played out in real life. And while it adds to the likable British feel of the piece it creates a near on-the-nose feeling to a number of points that the film makes, particularly in the second half, and the build up to it.
However, amongst he convention there’s still plenty of humour to be found within the well-meaning figure of Maurice Flitcroft. He’s held up by the cast and production team. His generosity and nature of simply wanting to see others succeed brings you in to want to see him succeed in his own goals. It’s what creates much of the likable and enjoyable nature of The Phantom Of The Open – certainly living up to its tagline of “every dreamer deserves a shot”. We don’t exactly laugh, although there are plenty of chuckles along the way, with him, but certainly enjoy the amusement of him having a good time, his ambition and simply throwing himself in to his newly-sprung passion. It may be slightly recognisable and conventional-feeling at times, but there’s no denying the charm and humour which carry things through, alongside the central focus, to make this a worthwhile, enjoyable and very British underdog feature.
While it occasionally leans towards convention and familiarity there’s plenty of charm and humour within The Phantom Of The Open and the kindly ambitions of its well-performed central character to carry it along and keep you in place.