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The Phantom of the Open

"A feel-good flick for the whole family"

★★★★½ - STUFF 

- British golfing folk hero's tale brilliantly brought to life - 

He was the shipyard crane-operator from Barrow-in-Furness who became a sporting legend.

The 46-year-old who rewrote the record books at the 1976 British Golf Open. His 63 shocked officials, fellow players and the gallery – especially as it was near-double what his playing partners had managed on the front nine. 

Despite pleas to retire gracefully, Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) was determined to finish what he started, eventually recording 121, a massive 49-over-par.

While his antics had British Royal and Ancient Golf Club officials grinding their teeth, tearing their hair out and lamenting how such an embarrassment could have taken place (unsure of what his “handicap” was – “false teeth, lumbago, a touch of arthritis?” – and unable to get one because the waiting list to join his local golf club was two years, Flitcroft had simply ticked professional), he saw it as a good day’s effort, given it was the first round he had ever completed and his caddy son had left his favourite club – the four-wood – in the car.

By the next morning, with his face splashed all over the papers, Flitcroft was all everyone was talking about. His bosses – including his stepson – thought he’d bought the company into disrepute, the Royal and Ancient hierarchy were making plans to ban him from every golf club in the country to ensure a repeat was simply not possible, but everyone else had fallen for the Cumbrian charmer – and his wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) couldn’t have been prouder.

Adapting his own 2010 book that he co-authored with Scott Murray, screenwriter Simon Farnaby has once again come up trumps with a crowd-pleasing dramedy about a sandwich-loving, colourful character.

Yes, like the magnificent Paddington 2, this is a feel-good flick for the whole family, one that features a terrific soundtrack of ‘70s and ‘80s hits (and yes, Christopher Cross’ Ride Like the Wind makes its third appearance of the year), some brilliantly executed set-pieces and one-liners and a fabulous supporting cast that also includes Rhys Ifans, Ian Porter and Mark Lewis Jones.

However, at its centre, is a truly wondrous performance from Rylance (Bridge of Spies, The BFG). Sporting a series of – sometimes hideous – hairstyles and facial fungus that reflect the various time periods covered by Phantom, he brings to life this seemingly indefatigable optimist (and chancer) with a real verve, panache and ethos (“practice makes perfect” and “shoot for the moon” are the two phrases he seemingly lives by) that is hard not to be swept along by.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is all froth and no substance though, this has a heart, a soul and a context that means it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those other beloved British period dramedies like Kinky Boots, Brassed Off and The Full Monty.

Between this and The Duke, 2022 has seen as renaissance of the heartwarming, establishment-defying, often toe-tapping genre that the British were once masters of. If they are all as good as this, then let’s hope they keep them coming.

- James Croot, STUFF 

The Phantom of the Open is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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