THE STORY – Amateur golfer Maurice Flitcroft achieves his late-in-life goal of participating in the British Open Golf Championship, much to the ire of the staid golfing community.
THE CAST – Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Jake Davies, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Mark Lewis Jones & Johann Myers
THE TEAM – Craig Roberts (Director) & Simon Farnaby (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
You wouldn’t think that a man known as “the world’s worst golfer” would warrant a biopic being made about him. However, Maurice Flitcroft’s story is so inherently cinematic that it seems like it was only a matter of time before he appeared onscreen. Director Craig Roberts (“Tolkien“) brings to life the true story of a retired crane operator who decided to enter the 1976 British Open with no previous golf experience and set the record for the highest ever score in the history of the sport. To any readers who don’t have much golf knowledge, the goal is to have as low a score as possible.
As many biopics are, the story is told as an interview with Maurice (Mark Rylance) recounting the story of his golfing career. It opens with a series of flashbacks that lead up to his decision to start golfing, starting with him meeting and marrying his wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) and adopting her illegitimate child as his own. He put his own dreams aside to focus on supporting Jean, Michael (Jake Davies), and their two younger twin sons. However, when Maurice and his coworkers are let go from their jobs, he encourages them to pursue something they’ve always wanted to do. After watching golf on the television, he decides to take his own advice and orders himself a set of clubs and decides to enter the British Open – and hopefully win the ten thousand pound prize with no prior experience whatsoever. “The Phantom of the Open” isn’t afraid to take a swing (pun intended) at the classism in the golf world. The other golfers bar Maurice from using their golf courses and prevent him from returning to tournaments – under his real name. However, he is unwilling to give up, especially after becoming a media darling with the press, leading to a series of amusing attempts by Maurice to get back on the course, much to the dissatisfaction of Keith McKenzie (Rhys Ifans), the secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
Rylance is undoubtedly the star of the show, and he shines in this role. He undergoes a mild transformation through the aging makeup in parts of the film and his flawlessly nuanced work. He’s somewhat awkward and inarticulate, unlike most Rylance roles. Still, his sweet romance with Sally Hawkins’s character and cheerful attitude in the face of much adversity and scrutiny will surely win over audiences. At one point, he says that “every mistake is an opportunity to learn more about golf.” The segments of Maurice trying to teach himself how to golf are hilarious, partially because Rylance plays them so earnestly. How could you not love him?
While Rylance certainly takes center stage, the family dynamics are well woven into the story to give this sports comedy a beating heart. While Maurice’s twins support his golf aspirations when they’re not busy chasing their own disco dancing dreams, his eldest adoptive son (Jake Davies) is embarrassed by his actions. This conflict provides the most intense emotional conflict in the film. Often, movies like this don’t bother to provide any details about the main character’s family, which renders them as nothing more than stock characters. It’s admirable that each of these characters has their own fleshed-out life – even Maurice’s wife Jean helps run the local theater in their town, and Hawkins is given enough material to sell the emotion of the story.
Aside from Rylance, it’s Simon Farnaby’s screenplay that does much of the heavy lifting to make “The Phantom of the Open” the engaging film that it is. Based on the book Farnaby co-wrote with Scott Murray, “The Phantom of the Open: Maurice Flitcroft, The World’s Worst Golfer,” Farnaby also co-wrote “Paddington 2.” Similar charming vibes emerge from this story with a beautiful blend of comedy and heartfelt drama, with family and the importance of dreams at its center. Combine this with the flashy camerawork, energizing editing, and Roberts’s whimsical touch, which gives the film a sense of forwarding momentum. All of the filmmaking elements come together to create a better-than-average sports story that serves as both entertaining and inspirational, especially for anyone who ever felt they weren’t good enough to pursue their dreams.
While much of “The Phantom Of The Open” is your average British late-period drama fare, it does have some unique sequences that play with cinematography and a beautiful score by Isobel Waller-Bridge to give it a dynamic feeling. But it’s Rylance’s performance and the sweet but quirky story of Maurice Flitcroft himself are the draws to “The Phantom of the Open.” While his playing may not have been ace, his story certainly is.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – This remarkably charming film casts Mark Rylance as one of the most unlikely lovable protagonists you’ve seen in a while. Dynamic filmmaking and charming writing gives this film an edge other other sports biopics.
THE BAD – Everyone else takes a backseat to Rylance.