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The Phantom of the Open Review

Golfing and ghosts go hand in hand. It is a sport for those that are nearly dead. No wonder The Phantom of the Open has tied the afterlife to its twelve-hole green. But these are not ghosts, after all. British filmmaking somehow has the pull to adapt little-known lives into feature-length films that have Academy Awards alumni right at their heart. Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins score themselves a piece that hopes to detail the “world’s worst golfer”, a man whose self-professed professionalism was proven thoroughly untrue. It has all the twee and light makings of a British cinema piece, the weightless and glib tone it takes far more common now than it ever was.  

Still, it is the dedication of the leading performers that make or break these movies. With Rylance popping on his best Yorkshireman accent and Hawkins continuing her new role in the eye of British cinema (as she did with the dull notions of The Lost King), this Craig Roberts-directed piece picks up its exact theme. BBC Two movie showcase, starting at 8pm and wrapping up just in time for the news. What a world. What a film. The Phantom of the Open has charisma and charm to it. Much of that can be placed on the shoulders of Roberts, who has come into strong form behind the camera after Eternal Beauty. Here, like there, he relies on a heavy-set collection of characters to start up a genuine and heartfelt feature. Even the cold and empty hearts stuck watching this on a Saturday morning with quotas to fill will have a hard time hating it.  

This is Maurice Flitcroft’s story and is nicely done. It is the family dynamic that pushes through so strongly. How dreams are held up by reality and the importance of family. Sacrifice made for the benefit of others who had not existed when charting the initial future. Roberts’ direction is spirited and colourful while maintaining the woes of redundancy and the local heroes that come and go. Nicely balanced and its dreamlike states and the inspiration that can click from almost nothing is a wonderful call-back to the early 2000s of British filmmaking that was hopeful of science fiction being used as an everyday explosion. The British Open makes for a comical place, with Rylance strapped into the suit of the Gods as he describes it, standing tall and out of place. 

Even with optimism comes a frank and honest look at the lives of working-class struggles. Out of work woes, the community spirit that so many look back on with fondness and struggle to find in the modern day, The Phantom of the Open is a definite nostalgia pop for those that remember the 1970s, but it has a modern heart to it. There is a pursuit of rebellion here too. Stuffy and ignorant powers that be are duped and buggered by confidence elsewhere. Good. Flitcroft may have made a mockery of The British Open, and that is his prerogative. He did a world of good in angering stuffy groups and the so-called spectacle of golfing clubs. The Phantom of the Open makes caricature villains from the likes of Rhys Ifans and enjoys some considerable, well-maintained scenes in doing so.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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