Golf impostor who’ll hack his way into your heart: BRIAN VINER reviews The Phantom Of The Open | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #ransomware


The Phantom of the Open (12A, 106 mins)

Verdict: Well above par 

Rating:

Deep Water (15, 115 mins)

Verdict: Unexpectedly shallow

Rating:

Sir Mark Rylance recently starred in the Netflix satire Don’t Look Up, playing the world’s third richest man, an eccentric technology tycoon. 

In the funny, heart-warming The Phantom Of The Open, by delicious contrast, he plays an eccentric soon-to-be-unemployed crane driver from Barrow-in-Furness.

Many golf enthusiasts, especially those old enough to remember the 1970s, will be familiar with the name Maurice Flitcroft. 

In the funny, heart-warming The Phantom Of The Open, Mark Rylance plays an eccentric soon-to-be-unemployed crane driver from Barrow-in-Furness

In the funny, heart-warming The Phantom Of The Open, Mark Rylance plays an eccentric soon-to-be-unemployed crane driver from Barrow-in-Furness

Long before any of us had heard of Eddie the Eagle, he was the embodiment of sporting haplessness: a cheerful fantasist whose dearth of talent was matched by an abundance of hope.

In 1976, masquerading as a professional golfer, Maurice took part in the final qualifying round of the 105th Open Championship, hacking his way round Formby Golf Club near my home town of Southport in 121 shots. 

That was almost double what a decent pro would be expected to score, but hardly surprising from a man in his mid-40s who had only taken up the game a couple of years earlier, after falling in love with it on television.

Craig Roberts’ film, scripted by Paddington 2 writer Simon Farnaby and based on his own book, tells Maurice’s oddly inspiring story, a classic British underdog tale. It is similar in many ways to another delightful recent film, The Duke.

Indeed, if any other actor could have played Maurice as engagingly as Rylance, it might have been Jim Broadbent, whose working-class dreamer in The Duke, Kempton Bunton, was cut from the same cloth.

Like The Duke, this film is also a portrait of a family, with the ever-wonderful Sally Hawkins playing Maurice’s wife Jean. Identical twins Christian and Jonah Lees play the Flitcrofts’ twin sons, who in real life were disco-dancing champions, allowing Roberts to add further authentic colour to the Saturday Night Fever-era detail.

This film is also a portrait of a family, with the ever-wonderful Sally Hawkins playing Maurice's wife Jean

This film is also a portrait of a family, with the ever-wonderful Sally Hawkins playing Maurice’s wife Jean

They have an older half-brother, played by Jake Davies, who is climbing the executive ladder at the shipyard where Maurice works and is mortified by his dad’s antics.

What is especially splendid about those antics, meanwhile, is that they are born not of impishness but the genuine conviction that the Open title, plus the venerable claret jug trophy and £10,000 prize that goes with it, are there for the taking.

Maurice reckons golf will be easy to master. When the Open entry form asks him for his handicap, he is genuinely unsure whether to enter ‘false teeth, lumbago and a touch of arthritis’. In fact, he doesn’t have an actual golf handicap because he isn’t yet good enough. But usefully, professionals don’t have handicaps either. So he simply says he’s a pro and gets on with realising his dream.

The 121 rather wrecks that dream, but it brings him modest celebrity and a more guileful plan to continue entering Open qualifiers in disguise, using pseudonyms such as Arnold Palmtree. This brings him into direct confrontation with the game’s senior administrator, the secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Keith Mackenzie, played by Rhys Ifans like an authority figure from a Carry On film, all growling pomposity, with an obsequious underling always in tow.

This is unfair to Mackenzie, whom I knew, and who was a man of wit and decency. Purists will wince at other misrepresentations. Curiously, and wrongly, the script refers to ‘the Royal & Ancient Golf Society’. But for every actual mistake or screech of dramatic licence there are lots more things to savour, while golfing knowledge is no more necessary than a knowledge of ski-jumping was to enjoy the 2015 film Eddie The Eagle.

As it happens, though, I’ve been playing since I was 11. I was also twice inspired by dear old Maurice Flitcroft to masquerade as a pro at the Open, which I got away with in 1984 and 1999 — a story for another day.

But that’s not why I so cherished this film. Rather, it’s full of heart and humour, a tonic for these benighted times, and Rylance’s performance, more than a little reminiscent of Paul Whitehouse’s enthusiastic northerner in The Fast Show, is glorious.

The scene when he exposes his diamond-patterned tank top like a warrior baring his chest might even be my favourite cinematic moment of the year so far.

I was hoping for more pleasures from Deep Water, the first feature for 20 years from veteran British director Adrian Lyne. Billed as ‘an erotic thriller’, it stars Ben Affleck and the fast-rising Ana de Armas, and is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel.

That’s promising: Highsmith’s books make terrific films (Strangers On A Train, The Talented Mr Ripley, Carol) and Lyne, whose credits include Fatal Attraction (1987), is a master of the genre.

I was hoping for more pleasures from Deep Water, the first feature for 20 years from veteran British director Adrian Lyne

I was hoping for more pleasures from Deep Water, the first feature for 20 years from veteran British director Adrian Lyne

But this story about a flighty young wife with a stolid older husband, whose resentment of her many affairs may or may not turn him murderous, lacks suspense and, increasingly, credibility as it grunts and strains its way towards an overwrought ending.

Both leads are fine, but they play such unlikeable characters in a well-heeled community where everyone is equally shallow that you stop caring, long before the end, who did what to whom. 

  • The Phantom Of The Open is in cinemas. Deep Water is on Amazon Prime Video.



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