This is a story about a legend in the game of golf whom you may never have heard of.
As you see more and more of this film, it’ll be harder and harder for you to believe it’s based on a true story. No way did this really happen! To prove it is, stick around at the end of the movie, and you’ll meet the real Maurice Flitcroft (played here by Mark Rylance) via old news footage. Flitcroft honestly did what this movie alleges and there are no ifs and or buts about it; he became extremely well known for having done so. As you get to know him, you’ll be happy that a person like Maurice Flitcroft existed.
Maurice was a crane operator at a shipyard. Not the most glamorous job, but it kept the lights on and fed his wife and three sons. One night, he was watching the “telly” to take his mind off of the impending layoffs at work. He was not searching for it, but the remote switched it to the British Open. After watching for a bit, it got his mind to thinking.
He didn’t feel it was his destiny to work in the shipyards and since he was raised to believe the “world was his oyster” and “practice was the road to perfection,” he decided all he had to do was practice his golf swing and he’d have a chance at winning the prize money and becoming a champ. Well, as good a chance as anyone else. With a carefully worded application created by his wife Jean (Sally Hawkins), he earned entry into the Qualifying Round of the British Open Golf Championship. Jean was excited for him because he has always made sacrifices for others. She felt it was his turn to live the life he always wanted. Flitcroft had never played golf in his life. She still supported him even when he fell flat on his face scoring a 121, the highest score in history. The worst round ever. Watching him make attempt after attempt to get out of a sand trap was brutal.
Rhys Ifans plays Keith Mackenzie, an official at the golf organization overseeing the championship. Mackenzie was none too happy with the fact that the world’s laughingstock in the game of golf was playing at his club. He starts pushing back against the man who becomes the world’s worst golfer, wanting him barred from every course in the country.
Maurice, encouraged by his loving wife and younger boys, embarrasses his eldest son Michael (Jake Davies) on his road to infamy. This part of the storyline is uncomfortable to watch. Maurice is trying his best but is being laughed at behind his back. Even Michael has a chuckle or two. Then he becomes angry at his father because Michael is now being made fun of because of his father’s handicaps. That said, much of the unpleasantness doesn’t reach Maurice because Jean won’t allow it to. The love between the couple feels genuine and practically gives the feeling that you’re watching an actual documentary.
The soundtrack is outstanding with songs from ABBA, Christopher Cross and others. There’s no moment in the film where you’re not entirely entertained. There are some rather strange sequences, predominantly one of a dream Maurice has, which looks a bit like he’s in a Van Gogh painting. Through it all, he finds that he has inspired others not to give up on their dreams, which he considers a “Hole in One.”
Maurice always fights for the little guy and explains how he feels about accomplishments and failures being scored to a news crew. To him, only one winner and 149 losers doesn’t seem fair. By the end, we learn that he had always promised Jean they’d “travel the world together.” With his popularity, good or bad, he fulfilled that promise and then some. This is an appealing and sweet story with a remarkable cast to carry you through. I would have given it a higher score had it been a bit faster-paced.
Phantom of the Open
Directed by: Craig Roberts
Screenplay by: Simon Farnaby from his own book The Phantom of the Open, co-authored by Scott Murray
Starring: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans
Run Time: 1h 46m
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Sport
Distributed by: Sony Picture Classics