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The Phantom of the Open Review

Based on the 2010 book by Simon Farnaby and Scott Murray, the latest delightfully British comedy to hit the big screen spotlights the astonishing true story of “the world’s worst professional golfer.” Hot on the heels of the charming stranger-than-fiction caper The Duke, this golf biopic also similarly documents a Northern underdog who goes against all the odds in his pursuit, winning plenty of hearts and minds along the way.

Directed by Craig Roberts, The Phantom of the Open centres on the larger-than-life story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), a Barrow-in-Furness shipyard worker who somehow, on a whim, decides to switch careers and take up golfing. Despite never playing the sport, he enters the British Open as a self-declared professional and miraculously finds himself participating at the 1976 tournament. Unsurprisingly, he tallies up the worst score in the tournament’s history and finds himself banned from proceedings – but that doesn’t stop him from living out his dreams, instead gatecrashing and playing under pseudonyms, much to the dismay of tournament chief Lambert (Rhys Ifans).

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Paddington 2 screenwriter Simon Farnaby has crafted a genuinely heartwarming underdog tale, which also embraces the more absurd moments in a number of charmingly amusing scenes – including a brilliantly calamitous training sequence and a golf buggy chase. Despite the occasional stray into schmaltz territory, there’s a carefully measured balance between comedy and the more emotional moments, steered wonderfully by Rylance and Sally Hawkins’ performances.

Peppered throughout is a real crowd-pleasing message of kindness and optimism in the face of discrimination, while briefly touching upon class and privileged elitism in sport. Much like Eddie the Eagle, Maurice is a plucky individual who fights against all the odds to be included, despite his background and working class status, even proposing the British Open to be more like the FA cup, where little clubs are allowed to take on the big names.

Rylance is as wonderful as ever as the bumbling but hugely charming Maurice, with an impressive accent, mannerisms and fake teeth in tow. He excels in the more comedic moments throughout the tournaments, particularly when he assumes various identities and disguises, especially as the ‘French’ Gerald Hoppy. However, it’s in the quieter moments when the smiley outer mask of Maurice is lifted – particularly in relation to his hurt at Mike’s (Jake Davies) shame – where the genuine soul and emotion comes to light. Hawkins’ is hugely endearing as the long enduring wife Jean, while often relegated to the supporting role, she truly comes into her own when powerfully delving into her history, defending Maurice. While Rhys Ifans once again enjoys the villainous role as obsessive tournament chief Lambert.

Director Craig Roberts once again brings his hyper-quirky and surreal styling to proceedings, with a number of fantasy sequences which include propelling Maurice to the sky, flying around the stars. Paired with composer Isobel Waller-Bridge’s equally quirky score and the disco-fuelled soundtrack, resulting in a spellbinding and nostalgia fuelled atmosphere.

Verdict

The Phantom of the Open is an enormously charming underdog tale that hits all the right emotional beats, with a lovely touch of whimsical surrealism. Mark Rylance & Sally Hawkins really are wonderful, elevating the sometimes by-the-books sporting narrative. An above par crowd-pleaser!

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