A while back, David Michell and Robert Webb did a comedy sketch about lazy writers who has written a British underdog sports film. With so many British films that fall under this category, it has almost become itself a genre, with its own cliches and story structure, all with the goal of being as heart-warming as possible. Phantom of the Open is the next in the long line of British sports film and while you can put a big tick next to being a heart-warming story, in order to achieve that, the film takes little to no risks doing so, which is a little disappointing.
It is essential for a film like Phantom of the Open to find the right sporting character, if the audience can’t connect with the character, it can’t connect to the emotions the film is pumping out. With the threat of redundancy over his head, crane driver Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) is our sporting hero, and he is a character that will almost immediately be very connectable. It is very easy to be drawn in by the humanity in Maurice and his “nothing to lose” attitude when he decides to enter the British Open and achieve the highest ever score, which means the worst score. Mark Rylance’s performance is entirely wholesome and seemingly without flaw (aside from his awful golf), you get the sense that Maurice is the nicest guy you could meet. It’s no wonder that you begin to get that wave of emotion you can only get from an inspiring figure during the events of the film.
You also have in between the golf, this kitchen sink drama between Maurice and his family, which I’d argue I found more engaging than the golf itself. I especially felt the film was at its strongest with Maurice’s twin sons Gene and James (Christian and Jonah Lees) and his non-biological son Michael (Jake Davies). The basis of the sons is to act as the “dreamer vs realist” struggle most of us have been through. The twins are following their dreams as disco dancers while Michael is the manager of the company Maurice works for. It’s the classic moral dilemma of following your dreams or being well connected and living in the lines rather than between them. Naturally, Gene and James are supportive of their father, but Michael is one to dismiss his fathers’ golfing antics when they cause him embarrassment with his peers. There are plenty of places where the film’s drama stems from such as Maurice overcoming the elitism of the sport of golf, but that is not nearly as interesting as the family drama which pays off when you discover the little odd facts about each of them are true.
I also love the relationship between Maurice and his wife Jean (Sally Hawkins). I think what people will appreciate the most about their relationship is how Maurice’s ultimate promise to his wife comes full circle. It’s very gratifying to see fulfilling writing like this because the urge of wanting to see these two happy makes the audience feel so much more invested in these characters and when that investment is rewarded, the emotional response to it is much greater than it would have felt in the script.
Now let’s address the big elephant in the room, how Phantom of the Open is mysteriously close to another British sports underdog story, Eddie the Eagle. The moment you hear the synopsis of The Phantom of the Open, it doesn’t take a genius to not draw comparisons to Eddie the Eagle. The stories are different obviously, but both follow a very similar narrative framework. For some, this may be distracting because you are feeling and reacting to Phantom of the Open in the same way you reacted to Eddie the Eagle. When you understand this, you almost wish that Phantom of the Open would be the film to make you feel something different, the viewing experience is too parallel.
It’s not only the familiarity that brings this film down but also the abundance of Britcom cliches. Not to implicate that Phantom of the Open is a poorly written story, but I did get pretty tired of character types that I have seen done to death. The character of Keith MacKenzie (Rhys Ifans) is the typical, man at the top, golfing authority figure and the performance is nothing too different from other, pompous authority figures we’ve seen in other Britcoms. Even when the film does do something differently, it’s often for the worst. Director Craig Roberts seems to experiment with different visualisations that make the film’s direction a little confusing, but not too distracting. There are two sequences where we go inside the mind of Maurice, one that has the stylisation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting, which clashes with a story more based in reality.
It is hard to deny that Phantom of the Open has the feel-good factor. The film is essentially like a good cup of tea, its warm, comforting and if you want it to be sweeter, the film doesn’t deny you that option. A little more ambition and risk-taking could have seen this film released from the weight of being undeniable similar to Eddie the Eagle, but the familiarity of the film will be comforting to some. We need feel-good films more than ever it seems and Phantom of the Open can deliver that experience.
Final Result: 6/10 – Above Average
Have you seen Phantom of the Open? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Ambulance