If you have a taste for offbeat British films (like The Duke) you’ll want to take note of The Phantom of the Open. The story is slim but sweet, and its leading actors capture the quirky sensibility of its unlikely protagonists. When those characters are played by actors as gifted (and likable) as Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, you know you’re in good hands.

The screenplay, by actor-writer Simon Farnaby (whose credits include Paddington and its sequel), is uniquely British, as is the real-life story that inspired it. Rylance plays a kind-hearted working-class bloke who, when his  factory job is threatened, decides to enter the British Open golf tournament in 1976, undeterred by the fact that he has never played the game before. Ever. He is blessed with an innate—and some would way, completely misplaced—sense of optimism. That explains how he has made it this far in life, aided and abetted by a loving and supportive wife. His twin sons follow his aim-for-the-stars credo and become championship disco dancers, while their straitlaced older brother cringes on the sidelines.

As the slow-boiling authority figure who tries to quash Rylance’s unrealistic golfing ambitions Rhys Ifans is amusing, making the most of a two-dimensional figure.  

But Hawkins and Rylance are past masters at imbuing their fanciful characters with humanity that keeps this film grounded even when it threatens to become absurd. Maintaining a credible through-line, even while incorporating some stylish dream sequences, is the responsibility of director Craig Roberts, who made a splash over a decade ago as the star of the sleeper Submarine. I must confess that I haven’t seen his first two features as director, but now I am intrigued and intend to catch up.    

The Phantom of the Open is a love letter to dreamers everywhere, and as such it defies scrutiny. Gifted actors have a way of blurring one’s critical vision.

The film opened in theaters in New York and Los Angeles June 3, and will be followed by bookings in cities nationwide.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024