Starring Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, The Phantom of the Open is the latest comedy-drama by British filmmaker Craig Roberts. The film follows the life of Maurice Flitcroft (Rylance), who infamously scored the highest score in the British Open golf tournament, earning him the moniker ‘The World’s Worst Golfer’.
With his workplace facing redundancies, Maurice is unsure of what to do with his life. Although his stepson Mike (Jake Davies) reassures job security, it doesn’t stop Maurice from searching for inspiration – which comes in the unlikely form of the British Open, where he watches American Tom Watson win his first major championship. Although he had never played golf before, let alone professionally, Maurice embarks on an ardent quest to win the Open.
However, his working class roots, as well as a lack of a handicap and a general knowledge of professional golf quickly draws the attention of R&A official Lambert (Rhys Ifans), who stops at nothing to make sure that Maurice never plays golf again. But Maurice’s determination to compete makes him an infamous figure in the sport, not to mention a household name.
Similar to the 2016 British comedy Eddie the Eagle, The Phantom of the Open is very much a story about a sporting underdog. But with such a familiar trope comes a tang of predictability that can either draw weary sighs or chuckles. From Maurice’s awkward debut at the Open to seeing him try and fail to progress using various (hilarious) alias and disguises, it paints Maurice as one of life’s failures. His stubbornness also makes him a source of embarrassment for Mike and his former workplace, which leads to increased conflict at home with Maurice’s long-suffering wife Jean (Hawkins) in the middle.
However, it is this determination that makes Maurice such an endearing protagonist. Due to Rylance’s brilliantly low-key performance, Roberts’ feel-good direction and Simon Farnaby’s light-hearted screenplay, Maurice becomes a hero of sorts for the working class by defying the snobbery of other golfers and the R&A, who go out of their way to stop him before he enters the green, while his positivity radiates from the screen. The fact that he gives up on his early ambitions to support his Jean and a young Mike reaffirms his good-hearted nature but there is no denying that he is also a dreamer at heart – so much so that he encourages his twin sons to follow their dreams of professional disco dancing, rather than reaffirming their future with a mature reality check.
With The Phantom of the Open marking only his third film as director, Roberts delivers a conventional yet charming feature with Rylance and Hawkins offering winsome performances. Overall, it is a heartwarming story about an unlikely dreamer.
Director: Craig Roberts; Simon Farnaby (screenwriter)
Stars: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Jake Davies, Rhys Ifans,
Runtime: 95 minutes