Phantom of the Open
19 Mar 2022
Simon Farnaby, Scott Murray
Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans
Mark Twain once called it a good walk spoilt; Roger Daltrey thought it was an old boy's game. An unknown wag once explained the rules 'You hit the ball as far as you can, and if you find it the same day you've won'. However you define that dark world inhabited by loud trousers and scary jumpers, golf has a never ending fascination for those who see it as much more than a game. True stories about British eccentrics are arriving by the shed load on the big screen; but where Phantom of the Open fits on the quality scale is open to debate.
It tells the true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), a soon to be unemployed crane driver who decides not only to take up golf but enter for the British Open. His enthusiastic wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) completes the entry form and inadvertently ticks 'professional'. Through a series administrative errors he ends up in the qualifying rounds of the Open in 1976. Course official Keith Mackenzie (Rhys Ifans) is far from convinced and keeps a close eye on him. It was the year golf found its first rock star in Severiano Ballesteros who would finish 2nd that year. But it was a different story for Flitcroft who shot the worst round in Open history. He quickly attained cult status and would inveigle his way into subsequent championships.
For a film badged as a comedy drama it has few laugh out loud moments. It feels like an extended sketch from Little Britain as a befuddled Flitcroft explains his philosophy of life. This often backfires as he looks like a simpleton and Flitcroft in real life was anything but. The closing titles feature real clips and show him as more assertive than the character portrayed in the film. The pseudo Forrest Gump routine comes undone far too easily as he slips into caricature. With balls and clubs flying in multiple directions there is a level of slapstick that defeats the narrative. However, the film is saved by the charming performances of Rylance and Hawkins. A banging 70s soundtrack pins down the era and brings back a flood of happy memories. The portrayal of Maurice Flitcroft invites the audience to laugh at him too frequently for my liking, but this remains a highly likeable and watchable film.