Craig Roberts’ latest sees Mark Rylance delivering the most endearing performance of the year, he is incredibly lovable. Obviously, with The Phantom of the Open being based on a true story, Rylance’s kind and innocent nature is influenced by the real Morris Flitcroft and his attitude to life. Roberts’ film rides heavily on the wonderful life story of Flitcroft and his adventurous deeds in the world of golf. It’s a heartwarming tale that will undoubtedly work for audiences who will, likewise, be quickly swept away by everything on show here.
The film follows Morris Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), a crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness, England, who infamously entered the British Open golf championship having never played before. His application as a professional golfer was accepted due to the presumption that no one would ever risk embarrassing themselves if they weren’t up to golf’s top-quality standards. On the day of the open, despite trying his very best, Morris ends up achieving the all-time record of the highest score in the British Open’s history. The Open’s organizers quickly move to halt Morris in his place as they realize the mistake they’ve made, letting him enter without any checks. But it’s already too late and Morris Flitcroft’s name has already gone down as “the worst golfer in the world.”
It’s a wonderfully endearing story that seems extremely farce, but miraculously, Morris Flitcroft really existed and did these things. After walking out of The Phantom of the Open, spectators will soon realize what a treasure it is that this film was made. It’s minute in the scale of film history, due to its small presence, but it’s a hidden gem within this year’s London Film Festival lineup.
Technically, The Phantom of the Open is a biopic, given that it’s inspired by Flitcroft’s life. However, it defies a large portion of today’s archetypal formula beats in biopics. First off, the choice to shoot on film is a big, instantly recognizable deviation from the glossed-up digitalized look of most biopics. The imperfection of the film’s graininess adds an instantaneous sense of reality, as not everything in life is all sunshine and daisies. The cinematography matches the absurd adventures that Morris gets up to, occasionally building dramatic attention to Morris’ golfing goofs while the professionals get the same treatment but pull it off in a dramatically skilled fashion. Without a doubt, the film’s visual language adds significantly to the overall experience of Roberts’ film.
The film is set during the height of the 70s and, naturally, boasts a killer soundtrack. From the swinging music of The Drifters to the lively disco music of the 70s, The Phantom of the Open’s use of music perfectly echoes the fun of the era it’s set in. Morris’ life motto is that dreams can come true if you want them. Like his venture into the world of golf, his two disco-dancing twins are evidence of his loving effect. The two of them are such a joy to watch as they dance their way through the film’s screen time. Also, no one can tell say they are not the 80s equivalent of the Weasley twins!
Craig Roberts’ film is an overwhelmingly endearing study of a wonderful man, who had an absolute romp of a life. Mark Rylance brilliantly embodies Morris Flitcroft’s sweet, easy-going nature. But what’s most funny is all the disguises that Morris used when returning to the British Open, gate-crashing the party time and time again. It’s certainly a film to remember.
This review is from the BFI London Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release The Phantom of the Open in the U.S.