Us Brits love an underdog, a downtrodden, a dreamer, a loser. Most of our comedy movies are about those unsung heroes who are willing to sacrifice everything they have for their ambitions, even if they aren’t the best. Think Eddie The Eagle, the ski-jumper who came last. He became a national hero. Then there is Maurice Flitcroft. Who, I hear you cry? Maurice Flitcroft made his name in 1976 by being the worst golfer ever to play in the British Open, and The Phantom of the Open is his remarkable story.
Maurice Flitcroft is a crane operator living in Barrow with his wife, step-son, and twins, who are disco dancing fanatics. One day, he is given inside information that the yard he works on is being Nationalised and there will be redundancies, and he should look for other work. While watching his new TV, one night, he stumbles onto the British Open. Immediately, and without a single piece of knowledge of the game, Maurice decides to enter the Open the following year, which doesn’t go so well for the man but will definitely change his life.
Directed by Submarine star Craig Roberts and written by Paddington 2 co-writer and star of TV’s Ghosts, Simon Farnaby, this is a delightful and surprisingly emotional affair about a man reaching for the stars needs to be brought down to earth. It’s the story of how we should all, at some point, aim for those dreams we have always had, just to say you’ve done it, no matter how you fare.
Using the 70s backdrop for outrageous costumes, often surreal sequences and a terrific soundtrack, Roberts treats the story as a magical fantasy, a journey into the mind of a man who would never escape the existence of working in a yard unless he makes his own dreams come true. Crammed with characters that seem made up but are actually real (the twin disco dancers, for example, were real champions) and never overcomplicating the plot with hidden messages or deep, meaningful subplots, this is also, at its heart, a love story. The relationship between Maurice and his wife, Jean, is incredibly touching.
Where most wives would be trying to persuade their husbands to give up on their dreams, Jean openly encourages it, writing the application form for the Open, although not knowing what most of the questions mean. Even when things are looking bleak for Maurice, she stands by him. A rarity in these kinds of movies. Simon Farnaby, who wrote a book about Maurice before the screenplay, obviously loves his characters, and this comes right off the page and onto the screen. It’s as if Paddington had become human and was taking up golf.
The scenes on the course are hilarious, with Maurice failing because, as he says, he left his 4 wood in the car. There is an air of innocence about this man. Even when the course director bans him from entering the Open again and refuses him the opportunity to play on any golf course in Britain, Maurice is even more determined.
The cast is terrific, with Rhys Ifans perfect as the disgruntled man in charge of the Open, while twins Christian and Jonah Lees are hilarious as the disco dancers. Yet the film belongs to the two leads, Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins. Rylance as Maurice is charming, sweet and surprisingly understated, a man who refuses to give up, even when those around him think he is making a fool of himself. It’s a delightful performance and an opportunity for Rylance to show his comic talents. On the other hand, Hawkins is the emotional edge to this double act, a woman full of heart and warmth who dotes for her husband and will stand by him no matter what. She supplies the tears while Rylance supplies the smiles.
The Phantom of the Open is a big, loving hug of a movie. Never laughing at Maurice’s antics but supporting him, and while you are either laughing or crying, you will also be cheering for this extraordinary underdog. A lovely, lovely movie.
4 out of 5
Director: Craig Roberts
Starring: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkings, Rhys Ifans, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Jake Davies, Neil Edmonds
Written by: (also based on the book) Simon Farnaby and (based on the book) Scott Murray.
Running Time: 106 mins
Release date: 18th March 2022