Armed with a punning title, The Phantom of the Open is a light-hearted biopic about getting old and living life on your own terms.
It doesn’t matter if you’re bad at something, as long as you can say that you tried. Take Maurice Flitcroft, for example. He was terrible at playing golf (about as bad as you can be, in fact), but that didn’t stop him from entering the prestigious British Open Golf Championship in 1976.
The history books cite him as a hoaxer, and given that his aliases – subsequent to his ban from the tournament – include Gene Paycheki, Arnold Palmtree and Count Manfred Hoffmanstel, that is a fair label.
But Flitcroft was also a simple man, who decided at the age of 47 to do something with his life after decades working the shipyard as a crane driver. Upon seeing a televised game of golf, he set about becoming a professional player.
His story is told in The Phantom of the Open – adapted from his biography The Phantom of the Open: Maurice Flitcroft, The World’s Worst Golfer – starring Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) as Maurice and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) as his devoted wife, Jean.
The movie presents the story with endearment, rather than ridicule. It is very much a British comedic drama, and a reliable one at that, and those viewers who enjoy biopics like Florence Foster Jenkins and The Lady in the Van will find a whole lot of joy in it.
Rylance has been a familiar presence to cinephiles for decades, notably for his explicit performance alongside Kerry Fox in Intimacy (2000), before becoming a household name following his Oscar-winning performance in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015). Since then his star has risen to new heights in Hollywood with roles in films like The BFG, Dunkirk and The Trial of the Chicago 7, but has also seen him typecast.
Indeed, Maurice Flitcroft’s simple, mild-mannered and ever-optimistic persona fits Rylance’s profile and there’s no denying how endearing his character is. Maurice lives life without regrets and takes each day by the horns, and his tenacity toward golfing is both hilarious and uplifting. It’s uncertain whether the real Maurice was a really bad golfer with genuine ambitions of success, or was actually the career hoaxer so many believe him to be.
The movie takes the former conclusion and wants us to root for him. And that’s fine, too, because this perspective offers the viewer more. His upbeat demeanour in the face of failure captures the world’s hearts, and will certainly tug at the heartstrings of audiences.
A few familiar faces fill the supporting cast roll call including Rhys Ifans (The King’s Man) as the stringent tournament official at the British Open, Mark Lewis Jones (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Maurice’s criminal mate, and Jake Davies (Artemis Fowl) as his embarrassed eldest son. They are all very good and give reasonably restrained performances, leaving enough space for Rylance to push his character to the cusp of farcical.
Aside from two very peculiar and perplexing fantasy sequences, The Phantom of the Open is a satisfying comedic drama, a light-hearted biopic about getting old and living life on your own terms. It won’t be topping any “best-of” lists this year but it’s certain to be a crowd-pleaser nevertheless.
In cinemas: July 14, 2022
Starring: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Jake Davies
Directed by: Craig Roberts