Two words: Mark Rylance. The actor stars in such boffo hits as Don’t Look Up, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and, most recently and most brilliantly, The Outfit.
Two more words: Sally Hawkins. The actor stars in Maudie, Made in Dagenham, and, yes, the pretty horrible, The Shape of Water.
Those two actors could perform a choral reading of the Sears Roebuck catalog, circa 1964, and draw an audience. They co-star in The Phantom of the Open, a bit of a change for each and a chance for both actors to show their comedic streaks. The Phantom of the Open is based on the real life story of the Flitcrofts. Hawkins plays Jean, the Mrs., and Rylance plays Maurice, a bit of a ne’er-do-well, albeit a genial one, living in Barrow-in-Furness, England. He lives by his father’s mantra: “Practice is the road to perfection.”
After watching Tom Watson on the telly in 1975, Flitcroft managed to enter the 1976 British Open Golf Championship Qualifying event with his twin sons as his caddies. He’s not even an amateur, that is, someone who loves the game. He knows nothing about golf, not even enough to, like so many, think it’s a snooty game of the aristocracy. He had never played golf before. He just saw the word “open” and figured he would — and did. At the British Open, he shot 121, the worst round in that event’s history. He became a folk hero.
Rylance, with wooly-worm eyebrows mirroring an overbite, is wonderful in the role, sprinkling lightness about like sunshine. Hawkins believably plays the loving, encouraging wife. Jonah and Christian Lees enact the dancing Flitcroft twins.
Simon Farnaby based his witty screenplay on the biography, The Phantom of the Open, by Scott Murray. Farnaby also wrote the screenplays for both dear Paddington films in which Hawkins starred. Craig Roberts directed The Phantom of the Open with amusement and irony. Sometimes he even stuck his camera in the hole or pulled in close to Jean’s hands on the homerow of her typewriter. Roberts followed a chronological path of the Flitcroft myth, starting where he ended.
The Phantom of the Open in lesser hands would have been a wisp of tissue paper, but with Rylance and Hawkins et al., the film utterly delights as it tells of a sweetly silly moment in sports.