AP

Review: Rylance brings his quirky brilliance to golfing tale

Jun 1, 2022, 2:33 PM | Updated: 2:49 pm

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Mark Rylance in a scene from "The Phantom of th...

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Mark Rylance in a scene from "The Phantom of the Open." (Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

(Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

As one of our most talented living actors on screen or stage, Mark Rylance certainly knows how to speak beautifully. But sometimes it seems the essence of his acting emerges in those blank seconds between words.

He hems, he haws, he pauses, he hesitates. He’s never afraid of leaving a few beats of dead space, and it keeps us off guard — often making us forget we’re hearing lines from a script.

Rylance is also one of those few actors who can power an entire film, and “The Phantom of the Open” definitely rides on the strength of his signature quirky energy as it tells the true-life story of Maurice Flitcroft, a shipyard crane operator from northern England who stunned the golfing world in 1976 by entering the British Open under false pretenses — he’d never played a round of golf — and shooting the worst qualifying round in Open history. Then he entered a bunch more times, under false names and in disguise, earning folk hero status along the way.

But Flitcroft wasn’t joking. He truly believed he had a chance, and he had undying support from his wife, Jean, who urged him to follow his dreams. As did two of his sons, whom he encouraged to do the same — they were global disco dancing champions (yes, we said disco dancing champions.)

So you have a great real-life story and one of the world’s best actors to tell it, along with the marvelous Sally Hawkins as Jean, who brings shading and poignancy to what could have been a formulaic part (with occasionally gooey dialogue). You also have a fun soundtrack full of period pop references and original music by Isobel Waller-Bridge.

Yet with all that going for them, director Craig Roberts and writer Simon Farnaby don’t ever truly show us why Flitcroft did what he did. What was the drive behind his, er, drives? He was clearly serious, but why golf, something he’d never attempted in his half century on earth? The film is so entertaining, it pretty much gets away without exploring the question.

In an opening sequence recapping Flitcroft’s life up to 1975, we learn that shipyard work was the only option for a young working-class man in Barrow-in-Furness at the northwest tip of England. But when, at age 46, social conditions imperil his career, his wife urges him to find a new dream. Watching telly one day, he happens on a golf tournament. Something clicks in his brain. The moment is captured in a dream sequence where Flitcroft mounts and is catapulted from an actual tee — as if he were a golf ball.

Soon, Jean is helping him fill out entry forms to the Open. Adorably, neither of them know what “handicap” means so they decide to disclose his false teeth and “a touch of arthritis.” When his application arrives, supercilious tournament authorities assume nobody would be stupid enough to say they’re a golf pro if they’re not.

So the ruse begins. It does not go well, but at the end of an amusing day, a TV announcer intones: “The day belongs to Maurice.” For most of the world, it’s a fun joke. Flitcroft himself is insulted by that assumption. He will be back, he promises: “Practice is the road to perfection.”

A journalist latches onto the story and suddenly Maurice is the “Phantom of the Open.” A montage of his media notoriety is accompanied by a hugely entertaining dance sequence to the strains of Abba’s “Money, Money, Money.” But golf authority Keith Mackenzie — a terrifically stuck-up Rhys Ifans — is furious. He bans Flitcroft from joining any golf clubs. Also, older son Mike, who is upwardly mobile at the shipyard, is deeply ashamed.

But Jean remains ever true. “How do you think Jack Nicholson would have done if he’d taken up golf at 50?” she asks supportively. Maurice corrects her gently: “Jack Nicklaus.”

It’s Jean who suggests that perhaps Maurice can get back to the Open by entering as someone else. A dashing Frenchman, perhaps? They try out a fake mustache. “Tres chic,” she says. “Bonjour,” he replies. The Hawkins-Rylance chemistry is a treat.

That chemistry is especially potent at the crowd-pleasing end, during a detour to Michigan, of all places. The closing footage of the real Maurice is utterly fascinating and hints that perhaps his story wasn’t as sweet as the one we’ve just seen. But it’s hard to deny it’s been a darned enjoyable 18 holes.

“The Phantom of the Open,” a Sony Pictures Classics release, has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for some strong language and smoking.” Running time: 106 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

___

Follow AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/JocelynNoveckAP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday.

18 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

19 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

20 hours ago

Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his criminal trial for allegedly covering u...

Associated Press

Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York over alleged hush money payments started with opening statements on Monday.

1 day ago

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran's nuclear site in Isfahan, Iran, April 4, 2024...

Associated Press

Israel, Iran play down apparent Israeli strike. The muted responses could calm tensions — for now

Israel and Iran are both playing down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran.

4 days ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after lawmakers pushed a $95 bill...

Associated Press

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

The House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other sources of humanitarian support.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Review: Rylance brings his quirky brilliance to golfing tale