Charm isn’t a word much-used in modern film criticism, sadly. Nor in much writing about golf, I shouldn’t think.
Yet The Phantom of the Open has charm by the bunker-load, a twinkling comedy about a hopelessly deluded golfer that tees up all the eccentricity and underdog spirit of the best British film traditions to leave you warmed with laughter.
Mark Rylance is at his open-faced innocent best in this, giving us a comic performance of such irresistible amiability that even vehement non-golfers will be hooked. As for those of us who do like to ruin a good walk in the maddening pursuit of trying to get a little white ball into an ever-shrinking hole some distance off, well, this movie will serve as a lasting inspiration to terrible golfers everywhere.
Rylance plays real-life hacker Maurice Flitcroft, a crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness who, in 1976, quits his job at the ship yards, gets a mail order golf set and enters the Open Championship despite never having played before.
He is dubbed The World’s Worst Golfer for his exploits which may well delight us but caused many a furrowed brow among the golfing establishment back then, a comic clash which keeps the ball rolling all the way throughout this delightfully well-observed period piece, from young director Craig Roberts and Paddington 2 scriptwriter Simon Farnaby, and even featuring some world disco-dancing champions.
Sally Hawkins deserves praise, too, for her winning patience playing Maurice’s long-suffering wife, Jeanie and there’s some gentle mugging from Rhys Ifans as the bigwig from The Royal and Ancient ruffled at being kicked into the rough by the eternally-optimistic Maurice.
To hear director Craig Roberts discussing Phantom of the Open, listen to my Seen Any Good Films Lately? podcast.