By Lynn Venhaus
Sometimes, those who lose are more inspiring than those who win. Take Maurice Flitcroft, for example, who became known as the Worst Golfer in the World. He wound up having the last laugh, though.
That’s the takeaway from “The Phantom of the Open,” a kooky and charming real-life story that celebrates ordinary joes who never give up. During his well-documented remarkable life, Flitcroft achieved an unlikely more-than-15-minutes of fame.
A shipyards crane operator in Barrow-in-Furness in northern England, Flitcroft, at age 46, went after a dream with uncommon verve and an unfailing work ethic. In 1976, he managed to gain entry to The British Open Golf Championship Qualifying and subsequently shot the worst round in Open history, 121, but became a folk hero in the process.
While it did not pan out, people still remember his name. Imagine the mindset to take a risk like he did — an inexperienced golfer who played his first round ever in the 1976 British Open. He turned the stuffy pro establishment on its ear – and Rhys Ifans is hilariously condescending as gatekeeper Keith Mackenzie. The more horrified they are, the more this unrelenting optimist keeps plugging away.
Director Craig Roberts treats Flitcroft with utmost respect, even if those around him do not. The brilliant Mark Rylance anchors this film that’s populated with eccentric characters, and the ensemble is integral to winning us over.
Rylance is joined by fellow British treasure Sally Hawkins as his wife Jean, in yet another poignant role. They make a sweet couple, and Hawkins always delivers a nuanced take. She covers Jean’s heartaches well.
In fine support are Mark Lewis Jones as his best friend Cliff and Ash Tandon as a reporter who tells his story.
Even though their sons are more caricature-like here, Jake Davies is his embarrassed stepson Michael, and twins Christian and Jonah Lees are very funny as the hyper disco-dancing duo Gene and James. The retro ‘70s needle drops are terrific additions to the score.
A real actor’s actor, Rylance, Oscar winner for “Bridge of Spies” who has three Tony Awards and a couple BAFTAs, has a knack for disappearing into a role, and this is no exception. As the earnest Maurice, he will tug at your heartstrings and tickle your funny bone at the same time.
In adapting his own 2010 book, co-written with Scott Murray, screenwriter Simon Farnaby has brought out the quirky details to make the story amusing but never mocks Maurice, and gives it some emotional gravitas in the dramatic turns so that we care about the outcome at every juncture.
Farnaby, who wrote the screenplay for the beloved “Paddington 2,” knows how to mix humor and heart, and Roberts adds warmth. While parts of this story seem incredulous, we find out what seems the most outlandish is true.
Uplifting and sincere, “The Phantom of the Open” is a little gem that aims for the stars and glitters like diamonds in the sky.
“The Phantom of the Open” is a 2021 comedy-drama that is directed by Craig Roberts and stars Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Jonah Lees, Christian Lees, Jake Davies, It is rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking, and runs 105 minutes. It opened in select theaters earlier in 2022 and is now available on digital and will be on DVD Aug. 30. Lynn’s Grade: B+
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.