The Father

The Son


Amazon Prime

The Son, Florian Zeller’s follow-up to the hugely successful The Father, is every bit as bleak as the first instalment in his adapted-from-the-stage trilogy. (The Mother – yet to be made into a film – is, by all accounts, no cheerier.) The Son is simpler and less complex, without any of the clever disorientation that earned its predecessor a ‘best picture’ gong. But that’s okay: the telling suits the tale.

Although Zen McGrath plays Nicholas, the titular son, this is really Peter (Hugh Jackman)’s story: the focus is on his perception of his relationship with his child. Peter loves Nicholas, that much is clear, but his marriage to Kate (Laura Dern), Nicholas’s mum, is over. He’s got a new girlfriend, Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and a new baby boy, Theo (Max and Felix Goddard). The split has not been easy: Kate is devastated, unable to refrain from sharing her hurt with Nicholas, and Beth is struggling to cope with the demands of a new baby. “You’re working. All. The Time,” she tells Peter – repeatedly. Nicholas can’t cope. He feels lost and abandoned. He stops going to school and begins to self-harm. And then he asks to move in with his dad.

The Son is a detailed account of the myriad tensions that form relationships, the delicate threads we weave and break in our clumsy attempts to love. Despite all the trappings – good jobs, swish apartments, private schooling, therapists – the adults around Nicholas are clueless; they don’t know how to help him. It’s a convincing portrayal of depression seen from the outside: Nicholas is closed and inarticulate, angry that no one understands him, but unable to say what’s wrong. He veers between sullen silence and long, rambling attempts to explain his pain. None of it helps. Peter desperately wants to be a better dad than his own father (a scene-stealing cameo from Anthony Hopkins), whose ‘man up’ putdowns are breathtakingly cruel. But there’s a limit to what anyone can do. The film feels like an illustration of a tragic truth: depression is difficult to live with, and there’s not always a way to help someone ‘get over it’, no matter how much you love them.

McGrath inhabits his role convincingly, his misery etched large. Dern and Kirby also make the most of what are, it must be said, quite limited roles, circling around the pivotal father-son. But just as this is Peter’s story, so it is Jackman’s film, and he proves that he really is a triple threat. From Marvel hero to all-singing, all-dancing Showman, he’s done it all – and here, he’s demonstrating that he can do gravitas too.

Slow-paced and claustrophobic, The Son isn’t a big film like The Father. Instead, it’s a quiet and sometimes chillingly sad meditation on a young man’s mental health problems in a world that’s ill-equipped to deal with them.

The tragedy is that it seems so ordinary.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Father



It’s been over a month since the 2021 Oscars, where The Father won awards for best male actor and best adapted screenplay, but somehow it seems I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival for much longer than that. It’s finally here, available to view on the big screen, where its powerful narrative pulses from every frame.

Anthony Hopkins is, it seems, the oldest recipient of the best actor award and we know, don’t we, that sometimes such honours are handed out because it’s late in an actor’s career and there might not be another chance to reward him? But make no mistake, his performance in the lead role is a genuine tour de force. As ‘Anthony,’ a widowed man enduring the terrifying, mind-scrambling rigours of Alzheimer’s, he pulls out all the stops, taking his character through a range of moods and manifestations – from grandstanding showoff to sly insinuator – before delivering a final, desperate scene that is absolutely devastating.

Those seeking a rollicking, sidesplitting comedy should be warned: this is not the film for you.

Anthony – when we first encounter him – is living alone in his spacious London apartment, where he’s receiving regular visits from his compassionate daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman). Anthony has recently dismissed his paid carer, claiming that she’s stolen his watch, and he’s adamant that he will not, under any circumstances, move out of the place that he has always regarded as home. But as the story progresses, the touchstones of his life crumble one by one as the familiar things around him begin to change at a terrifying rate. The place doesn’t look the same… items have been moved, rearranged. Anthony’s favourite painting is missing… and why does somebody by the name of Paul (Mark Gatiss) parade around saying that this is actually his apartment? Who is Paul exactly? Anne’s ex-husband? If so, who’s the other Paul (Rufus Sewell), and why does he act like he owns the place? And what’s all this nonsense about Anne moving to Paris?

Perhaps the new home help, Laura (Imogen Poots), might be able to put things in order, but why does she remind Anthony so much of his other daughter, Lucy, the one he seems to have lost touch with? And most bewildering of all, why is it that sometimes, even Anne appears to be a different person than she used to be?

Florian Zeller’s astonishing film, adapted from his stage play, unfolds almost like a psychological horror story, as Anthony struggles to take in what’s happening to him. While I expected this to be bleak, I’m not fully prepared for the power with which it hits me. There’s doubtless extra impact because, for the last ten years of her life, my own mother was afflicted by Alzheimer’s and I recognise many of the beats here as being absolutely authentic. Perhaps that’s why the tears are rolling so copiously down my face.

Despite being confined mostly to one set, The Father never feels stage bound, because so much of what I can see onscreen is in a constant state of flux and because, at times, I feel every bit as unsettled as Anthony does. I’m never entirely sure where a scene is taking place, when it it is set and who is present in it – and that’s not meant as a criticism, but as an observation about the story’s unsettling grip on me. While there was aways a danger of The Father being completely dominated by Hopkin’s extraordinary performance, Colman is as excellent as always, managing to kindle the audience’s sympathy with a mere glance. And Olivia Williams is also compelling as the film’s most enigmatic character.

I walk out of the cinema, bleary-eyed from crying and, if I still have a few unanswered questions, well, that feels exactly right. This is an assured film that handles its difficult subject with rare skill.

So, worth the wait? Most definitely. But maybe remember to take some hankies?

5 Stars

Philip Caveney