The Phantom of the Open

by Toby Woollaston

Verdict: Scores below par…which is a good thing.

Golf has never been my thing. The concept is simple but, as many know, in practice it’s a painfully frustrating game. Thankfully, the cinematic version is far more agreeable and The Phantom of the Open returns a solid scorecard.

Transferring his talents from the felt-hatted Paddington to the flannel-floppied golfer Maurice Flitcroft, screenwriter Simon Farnaby has teamed up with director Craig Roberts (Eternal Beauty) to tell the true story of Flitcroft who stunned the golfing world with the worst round in British Open history.

The perfectly cast Mark Rylance (Don’t Look Up, Dunkirk) tees off as Maurice Flitcroft, an amiable, quietly spoken, crane operator from the Northern English port town of Barrow-in-Furness. After taking a shine to golf (despite never having never before held a club) the determined and extremely naive Maurice finds himself fortuitously entered into the prestigious British Open.

Flitcroft sees the positive in every situation and despite his atrociously bad golf game he always manages to find the silver lining, telling anyone who will listen that he is improving with every stroke. And although he feverishly practices, his misplaced optimism becomes a runaway train heading for a washed-out bridge.

Also perfectly cast is Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky, The Shape of Water), who gives a heartwarming turn as Maurice’s long-suffering but very supportive wife, Jean, who despite limited screen time, offers some of the film’s best moments.

Of course, this rags-to-rags folk-hero story is hardly breaking fresh cinematic territory— Eddie the Eagle and Cool Runnings are obvious examples of films that amusingly tell stories of sporting misfits who push back against the odds. But Phantom often breaks from that template with brief moments of magical realism that plug directly into Flitcroft’s MO as a dreamer. There is a fairytale-like quality to Robert’s direction, who keeps things inventive and manages to avoid cinema’s cliched water features and bunkers.

The result is a delightful film that is joyously warm and most definitely has its heart in the right place. Much like my golf game, Phantom will make you laugh … and unlike my golf game, Phantom easily makes par.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.