THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Craig Roberts

Stars: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Jake Davies, Ian Porter, Tommy Fallon, Mark Lewis Jones, Simon Farnaby, Johann Myers. 

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Golf is not the most cinematic of sports, but it has provided the backdrop for a number of entertaining movies, including Tin Cup with Kevin Costner; the biopic The Greatest Game Ever Played; the based-on fact story of The Legend Of Bagger Vance with Matt Damon and Will Smith; and Tommy’s Honour about the creation of the modern game as we know it. Caddyshack (and its sequel) was more of a gross out comedy set in an exclusive golf course, while Adam Sandler’s crass comedy Happy Gilmore followed the unlikely story of a hockey player turned golfer. And in the Bond movie Goldfinger, James Bond engaged in a game of one-upmanship and psychological warfare with his nemesis during a round of golf.  

The Phantom Of The Open is a crowd-pleasing and inspirational comedy/drama based on the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, the worst player in the history of the British Open, and it is a thorough delight.  

Mark Rylance (an Oscar winner for his work in Bridge Of Spies, etc) steps into the role of Flitcroft, a somewhat naïve and down to earth and eternally optimistic shipyard crane operator in the small port town of Barrow-on-Furness who, on a whim at the age of 46, decides to take up the game of golf despite knowing nothing about the sport. After practicing on the nearby beach and sneaking into the grounds of local courses, he decides to enter the British Open in 1976, marking himself down as a professional. A not particularly gifted amateur, he is like a fish out of water in the world of professional golf with its regulations and etiquette. He subsequently shot the highest first round score in the history of the prestigious tournament and earned the ire of the Royal and Ancient golf club’s officious secretary Keith MacKenzie (Rhys Ifans), who banned him from every golf club in the country. Prevented from playing in the Open again, Flitcroft used a number of disguises to enter the tournament a couple of years later.  

After his ruse was discovered, he fell on hard times but never lost his optimistic view on life. There is also some tension between Maurice and his stepson Michael (Jake Davies), who is more pragmatic and realistic, and feels embarrassed by Maurice’s actions. But as luck would have it, Flitcroft unknowingly became a folk hero in other countries and his efforts inspired others.  

This is a feelgood underdog story that serves up a number of positive messages about family, following your dream and never giving up. The film is based on the biography The Phantom Of The Open: Maurice Flitcroft, The World’s Worst Golfer, which was written by actor and writer Scott Farnaby and Scott Murray. Farnaby himself has adapted the book for the screen and although he takes a number of liberties for dramatic purposes, this is an engaging oddball story that again proves that truth is often stranger than fiction. The film has been directed with a light touch by actor turned filmmaker Craig Roberts, who seems to have a genuine affection for Maurice. 

Rylance brings a droll and dry sensibility to his performance here as the bumbling Flitcroft; he essentially plays it straight, which emphasises the humour of the situation. He brings a sincerity and warmth to the role, and he doesn’t play for cheap laughs. I particularly liked his twin teenage sons Gene and James (played with enthusiasm by real life twin siblings Christian and Jonah Lees) whose ambition to become world champion disco dancers is wholeheartedly supported by Maurice. And Sally Hawkins is sympathetic as his loving and supportive wife Jean. 

The framing device for the film is an interview being conducted with Flitcroft by an American television crew. Over the end credits we get to see archival footage of the real Maurice Flitcroft during this interview, with several photographs of the real Flitcroft and his family. 

The Phantom Of The Open is a delight that will even appeal to audiences who are not usually interested in sporting dramas. 

★★★☆

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