The Phantom of the Open

Ok, so we all know that I’m not a sports fan, but golf in particular draws my ire as a racist, sexist, elitist game, played almost exclusively by wankers who have a picture of an Audi as their profile photo on Tinder. So I very nearly didn’t go see this movie, which would have been a tremendous shame, because it is excellent.

The Phantom of the Open is about Maurice Flintcroft, a working man from Barrow-in-Furness who, when facing the possibility of redundancy at nearly 50, decides to take a new career as a professional golfer. Armed with more optimism and moxie than awareness of the field he’s entering, he manages to sign up for the British Open. There he gains international fame for playing the worst round of golf in the history of the tournament.

Maurice’s struggle to get a toehold in a career, which is far more excluded to him due to class than ability, is a reflection of the times it’s set in. As the 70s turn into the 80s, and Thatcherism is on the rise, the narrative of being up-wardly mobile, that ambition will replace class boundaries to produce a new era of opportunity in Britain, is satirised in Maurice’s character. It not only is untrue, but requires a great deal of naivety to even believe.

But conversely, everything in Maurice’s life that is positive belongs to the previous era, where community and solidarity were sources of support. The heart of this film is Maurice’s family. The support and love they give him is only a reflection of the support and love he gives them. So often in films about a man pursuing his ambition, his wife or kids are reduced to just cheerleaders from the sidelines, and there is this icky subtext that this is what a family is for, to further a man’s potential and help fulfil his wants in life. The Phantom of the Open is a great example of how to tell that kind of story right. Throughout the film, both before and during his golfing hijinks, Maurice continuously encourages and supports other family members pursue their dreams. He continually gives words of encouragement to his twin boys who pursue a disco dancing career, and his other boy becomes a manager and engineer, which Maurice shows pride in. Scenes are full of little things, like his wife’s love of acting and involvement in a local community theatre, and Maurice is shown staying up late at night sewing costumes. The story of the film might be about his golfing career, but Maurice’s story is about his family.

Which is why it took me so long to write this review, because, while I’m sure the filmmaker hoped people would find this heartwarming, I doubt he expected to reduce me to tears quite so spectacularly. I was howling greeting through this film, because the character of Maurice so reminded me of my grampas. They just so brought to life what a precious treasure a good man is to his family.

Shot with more than a little whimsy, The Phantom of the Open is funny, inspiring, and heartwarming. A lovely film to spend an evening watching.

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