In Review

Film review: Phantom of the Open

Another British comedy about a sporting underdog starring Mark Rylance

If the story at the heart of this “enjoyable and good-natured” comedy weren’t based on fact, “no one would believe it”, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator. Mark Rylance plays Maurice Flitcroft, the shipyard crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness who “took up golf at 46 after seeing it on the telly” and entered the British Open in 1976. His score of 121 for the first qualifying round was the worst in major championship history; yet he then managed to hoax “his way into further Opens”, much to the fury of the “snobbish” golf establishment. Written by Simon Farnaby, who co-wrote Paddington 2, this is a classic British underdog film in the mould of last month’s The Duke. Although it does “waltz off into Hallmark schmaltz at the end”, there are “delicious moments” along the way, as when Maurice’s wife (Sally Hawkins) lists his handicap as “false teeth and lumbago”, and when a regional news programme invites him to come and putt live in the studio – and he misses every shot. 

“Oh God,” you may think – “not another lovable British loser!” And it is true, we’ve been here many times before, said Charlotte O’Sullivan in the London Evening Standard; but the film is “gorgeously acted”, and its slapstick “made me cry with laughter”. I’m afraid it drove me “slightly mad”, said Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sunday. Some films try “just that little bit too hard to make you like them”, and this “undemanding” comedy falls into that trap. It doesn’t help that Rylance seems to have cobbled the role together from parts he’s already played; there’s a good dose of the BFG in the mix, and the finished article is “some sort of Cumbrian Forrest Gump”. Still, this is a funny film that will charm people with an understandable craving for “something lightweight”.

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