Hundred and thousands of people who don’t like golf will like this film….honestly.


Directed by: Craig Roberts

Written by: screenplay Simon Farnaby; based on the book ‘The Phantom of the Open by Scott Murray and Simon Farnaby

Featuring: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Jake Davies, Mark Lewis Jones, Johann Myers, Ian Porter, Rhys Ifans

Maurice Flitcroft, a crane driver working in the shipyards in Barrow-in-Furness decides to enter the 1976 Open golf championship despite having ‘discovered’ the game only a few months before and never having played a round. Despite this supposed handicap he enters and from this point golfing history is made and we are witness to the golfing years of a mischievous ‘normal’ man who would not allow the establishment to hold him down.

Recently I have seen a couple of films similar to this and I have to say from a British film viewer’s perspective as a country we do seem to make these types of films very well. A plucky but eccentric underdog who goes up against the system and although they are not perfect, they somehow seem to win against all odds at least partially, despite setbacks and sometimes making themselves as much a barrier as those that really oppose them. All done with an underlying sense of fun and silliness – and then you find out it was based on real life.

Artistic licence will always come into play but it seems, usually, that the most ridiculous and unlikely sections of the film turn out to be closed to the fact. The real truth behind the story is perhaps not so poetic, Flitcroft only ever played in the qualifiers not the full Open but the ridiculous names and anger of the golfing establishment were too real. Regardless of this with Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins as a pitch-perfect loving couple in your lead roles and an underdog does good and cocks his nose at the stuffed shirts.

The whole cast is having fun from the get-go with Rylance playing Flitcroft as an easy-going quiet man and his wife, the admirably Sally Hawkins is the loyal support behind the man regardless of his circumstances. To be balanced Flitcroft is not shown as entirely benign and wonderful, for instance, he upsets his upwardly mobile son and ends up living in a mobile home with his wife after losing his house. We have to be honest though the story is there to make you smile, laugh and feel good and this is what it does. Perhaps Rhys Ifans is underused as he somewhat plays against type as the ‘dramatic baddy’ the chairman of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, who organised the British Open and therefore feel that Flitcroft is someone undermining their professional tournament – to be fair they had a point.

Simon Farnaby, who guests as a French professional golfer, co-wrote the original book and converted it into a screenplay. He is well known for Ghosts, Horrible Histories and is an actor who makes me laugh whenever he appears on the screen. I would go so far to say that his take on the story has injected his sense of fun and joy of absurdity along with a rebellious streak, it was already there in this tale but Farnaby along with the director and actors highlighted these components from beginning to end.

Happily, the story moves along at a quick pace, set pieces are economical and purposeful and we reach a joyful and emotional climax in a timely manner. That makes a nice change if nothing else.

No film is perfect but the writing, directing and acting here are effortlessly top-level meaning that we have another enjoyable and worthwhile daft story about true British eccentrics that deserves to be told and chortled at.

It is not historically accurate, it deliberately tugs at your heartstrings but at the final reckoning is it fun, will you like watching it for what it is, a daft character-driven piece about an obscure tiny period in British golfing history? The answer has to be yes.

How do I describe The Phantom of the Open?

It is the naughty twinkle in the eye of those who are messing with us and we know they are but just do not care.


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