Biopics are all the rage right now! A new one always seems to be in production or nearing release, more often than not unable to hide being very thinly veiled awards show bait. From its egregious promotional posters and trailers, 'The Phantom of the Open' is the latest unapologetic biopic centred around Maurice Flitcroft’s golfing exploits, played enthusiastically by Mark Rylance ('Ready Player One', 'The BFG', 'Bridge of Spies'). If you happen to be unfamiliar with the real-life Flitcroft, he was a shipyard crane operator who one day decided to compete in the British Open – even though he was not a pro golfer but claimed that he was, and to the shock, outrage (and subsequent amusement) of the public and professionals went on to shoot the worst score in British Open history. Faced with multiple bans from golf clubs and the British Open itself, Flitcroft was impressively undeterred and in fact amped up his efforts, taking on whacky disguises and fake personas multiple times in order to play in the British Open.
The premise of 'The Phantom of the Open', based on Scott Murray and Simon Farnaby’s 2010 identically-titled biographical book, is incredibly specific and niche, and the film never once shies away from it. The origin of its absolutely misleading title, which does nothing to help the film’s marketing and raises the question of if the film is somehow a golf-related spoof of the critically-acclaimed musical 'The Phantom of the Opera' by Andrew Llyod Webber (spoiler: it is not) is implied but not explained, and referenced only once in a throwaway voiceover line.
However, in spite of its cringeworthy title, it's actually a lovely film and, to my absolute surprise, I truly enjoyed every minute. That's despite the fact that - one: I am vastly unfamiliar with the Lore of Golf – my golf-related knowledge is unfortunately very much limited to 'High School Musical 2' (2007). It is an undeniable fact. And two: Dare I say we are in a period of biopic film oversaturation right now. They really just keep making these things (and giving them all the awards)! However, 'The Phantom of the Open' harnesses these two things and, by the force of sheer talent and heart from the cast and crew alike, manages to craft a unique and uplifting film capable of rivalling the charm of 'Paddington 2' (2017) - no surprise, as it was also penned by the same writer, Simon Farnaby.
The film’s main stars, Mark Rylance as Flitcroft and Sally Hawkins ('The Shape of Water', 'Maudie') as his wife Jean, both put in absolute emotion and effort in capturing the eccentric loving couple. Although Flitcroft’s golfing exploits are definitely a major plot point of the film, the film expands to centre on Flitcroft’s family and how his actions - or rather, attitude toward life - has impacted them. His eldest son Michael, played by Jake Davies ('X + Y', 'Artemis Fowl') - frowns upon his father; while his twin sons James and Gene played by Jonah Lees and Christian Lees are inspired (or disillusioned) by him. The most emotional scenes of the film involve family, as they each chase their respective dreams.
Director Craig Roberts harnesses Simon Farnby’s ultra-charming script to create a quirky and uplifting British comedy that manages, incredibly impressively, to make golfing interesting and fun.
The film’s creative direction stands out, as director Craig Roberts ('Eternal Beauty', 'Just Jim') harnesses Simon Farnby’s ultra-charming script to create a quirky and uplifting British comedy that manages, incredibly impressively, to make golfing interesting and fun. The film sprinkles in gorgeously campy dream sequences and needle drops (a film that includes 'Money, Money, Money' by ABBA automatically makes it very hard for me to dislike). In a particular turning point sequence, the idea to pick up golf is planted in Flitcroft’s head by watching a tournament on TV and a dream sequence unravels as Flitcroft darts through giant golf clubs and balls and walks up a flight of stairs in a tasteful homage to 'The Truman Show'. Jonathan Amos ('Baby Driver', 'Scott Pilgrim vs The World') crafts lively training montages and great moments through his editing choices.
'The Phantom of the Open' never tries to be anything too philosophical or deep, but rather embraces Flitcroft’s can-do attitude and the inherent absurd humour of his exploits. Although sometimes toeing the line of becoming a cheaply basic inspiring feel-good story, the film is simply too likeable to hate. As I pen this review, the 100th biopic in production this year has just been announced (an Amy Winehouse biopic this time). Through the biopic frenzy plaguing Hollywood at the moment, 'The Phantom of the Open' – one about golf, of all things - quietly shines. I wonder if Mark Ryland had to go through a golf boot camp à la the infamous Madonna biopic boot camp to determine his suitable aptitude (or rather, inaptitude) toward golf.