Good golf movies are few and far between. Tin Cup, maybe. Happy Gilmore?
After being trumpeted for what seems like forever, The Phantom of the Open has finally er… opened and, after having seen the needlessly detailed trailer for what feels like a thousand viewings, it’s hard for the actual film to generate any real surprises. Which is a pity, though hardly the fault of writer Simon Farnaby or director Craig Roberts.
This is the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a sixty-five-year-old crane operator, who, despite having no experience of – or indeed aptitude for – the game of golf, decides to enter the British Open Golf Championship. He initially appears as himself but, later, when he becomes persona non grata, under a series of increasingly unlikely nom de plumes. He’s also the father of twins, who briefly became the disco dancing champions of the world. (Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.) It’s an immensely likeable story and, as played by Mark Rylance, Flitcroft is an immensely likeable chap: shy and unassuming, but with the dogged determination to keep going, no matter what.
‘Practice makes perfect,’ he’s fond of saying. A lot.
His lofty ambitions are aided by his ever-supportive wife, Jean (Sally Hawkins), but vigorously opposed by his nemesis, Keith McKenzie (Rhys Ifans), a sneering official who sees golf as the realm of the well-to-do, not for some working-class oik with ideas above his station.
But of course, the fickle public does have a habit of flocking to support an underdog. When Flitcroft’s lamentable debut earns him the worst score in the history of the Open, he’s spotted by Daily Mirror journalist Lloyd Donovan (Ash Tandon), who takes the opportunity to give him that titular nickname and to ensure that plenty of other golf fans hear all about him.
And that’s pretty much all we get in this warm-hearted romp – from Flitcroft’s disastrous attempts to gain skills in his adopted sport to the unexpected discovery that, in America, there’s a whole society of golfers who follow him with adoration. There’s an attempt to instil more dramatic meat into the story when Flitcroft’s desperate misadventures embarrass his upwardly-mobile stepson, Michael (Jake Davies), a wheeler and dealer at the shipyard where his father is employed. Can the two of them ever reconcile their differences? But this feels like a side-issue. The Phantom of the Open is mostly a good-natured attack on the old chuckle-muscles and in that respect, it comes up to par.
As an aside though, I do wish cinema trailers would resist giving away so much of an upcoming film. This might have fared better in my affections if I hadn’t felt as though I could act as a prompt for most of the actors’ lines. Just saying.