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The Phantom of the Open review – Mark Rylance golf comedy hits a hole in one

The Oscar-winning actor is on brilliantly funny form in Craig Roberts' third feature, a whimsical romp packed with charm

A perfectly combed silver wig and a set of unnaturally-looking pearly whites turned scruffy Mark Rylance into an Elon Musk-inspired tech mogul in Adam McKay’s 2021 disaster satire Don’t Look Up. His performance, a deliciously weird curveball, was enough to make one wonder why the actor hadn’t set his sights on more comedic roles before.

Thankfully, we haven't had to wait long for Rylance to do funny again. In Craig Roberts’ The Phantom of the Open, the Oscar-winning actor plays Maurice Flitcroft, a crane operator from the smoky city of Barrow-in-Furness who signs up for the prestigious British Open without having ever played a single round of golf. His baffling turn at the tournament earns Flitcroft the title of “world’s worst golf player.” The best part? It's all true.

It is fitting that the ever-upbeat Flitcroft resembles the much-beloved Paddington bear, with Paddington 2 writer Simon Farnaby here on scriptwriting duties. This is the first time Roberts has vacated the writer’s seat for one of his films, which might explain why the director’s third feature bypasses his staple melancholia in favour of generous earnestness. The partnership proves fruitful, with Farnaby’s ever-amusing mix of clever quips and heartrending one-liners beautifully brought to life through Roberts’ curious eyes.

Cinematographer Kit Fraser contracts and expands the spaces around Flitcroft, the golf course made into a far-reaching, promising wonderland ,while the smoggy shipyard remains an all-engulfing structure designed to consume. When Maurice steps onto the grass, there is little that feels unreachable to a man who spent an entire life comfortable in the pedestrian just to be jolted awake by the thrilling possibility of the extraordinary.

“Flippin’ heck,” Rylance repeatedly exclaims though a heavy Cumbrian acent as Flitcroft’s predicament becomes increasingly absurd. It is hard, then, not to think of Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump, cinema’s quintessential optimist. Both men are hit by life’s merciless hand and somehow remain not only unbruised but dead set on paying misfortune with kindness. This wholesome hope is contagious: Roberts makes it impossible to resist thinking of the world as a land of Gumps and Flitcrofts, of indomitable dreamers. What a lovely thought that is.

Phantom of the Open is now showing in UK cinemas.

Where to watch

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