The Father

 

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A film taken from a stage play could well be its definitive version.

 
Father, The

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman

 

Very few films can offer performances of the quality to be found in Florian Zeller's adaptation of his stage play The Father. It is perfectly cast and, quite understandably, many have said that Anthony Hopkins deserves to win an Oscar for his interpretation of the title role. But, brilliant as Hopkins is, he is matched by Olivia Colman in the role of his daughter Anne, her acting here quite as exceptional as his (some have expressed surprise that she too is Oscar nominated for this film but I am not one of them). The supporting players are Rufus Sewell, Imogen Potts, Mark Gatiss and Olivia Williams and if acting alone was the criterion for what makes a masterpiece this film would be one. Creditable too is the way in which the playwright, here undertaking his film debut in the director's chair, has made it all seem so well suited to the screen (in this he may have been helped by sharing the screenplay credit with Christopher Hampton and by having an adroit editor in Yorgos Lamprinos).

 

The Father is a study of an octogenarian suffering from Alzheimer's and this subject, covered in more than one other film in recent times, gains here from an entirely fresh approach. The father, Anthony, first seen living in his daughter's London flat, is portrayed as becoming ever more confused in his mind and this fact is conveyed by showing everything from his viewpoint. Early on what we see is entirely naturalistic including such details as Anthony claiming that a carer has stolen his watch when in truth he has merely forgotten where he put it. Before long, however, he is confusing identities (the person he takes to be Anne is now somebody else played by Olivia Williams). Then he fails to realise that the flat he is in is not his own. Soon he is also being torn between on the one hand a belief that Anne is unmarried and about to leave him to live in Paris and on the other the notion that she has a husband (Rufus Sewell) who is also living in the flat. However inconsistent this is, all of it is shown to us as Anthony believes it to be at any given moment and this approach results in a sympathetic and cinematic portrayal of what is happening in Anthony's mind.

 

Clever as this concept is, it nevertheless leaves the film on an inevitably downward path that contains limited plot development to sustain a full-length work. It is kept going by the strange turns in what Anthony understands of his situation but what starts off as a convincing illustration of the illness eventually comes to feel more like a set of writer's contrivances. There's also a snag about the very opening shot that only becomes apparent later. Nothing about it suggests that the image of Anne arriving at the flat is something in Anthony's head and we are thus led to believe that we are watching a chronological narrative. Despite that a late revelation as to the true identity of two of the figures seen earlier renders this an impossibility. Equally when certain scenes are repeated subject to variations it tends to feel self-consciously tricksy. Furthermore, although talk dominates the film without letting it seem uncinematic, the closing speech does come across as theatrical in its wording and well delivered though it is by Hopkins he can't conceal that. As for music heard in the film, this veers rather uneasily between recordings to which Anthony is listening and music used without there being any source for it.

 

For me these reservations build up, but never fatally. It would be quite wrong for anybody who relishes great acting to miss The Father and, regardless of the questionable aspects, it does hit home: it is Anthony who movingly declares that "all this nonsense is driving me crazy" but, while portraying his experience so tellingly, The Father is equally adroit in showing the devastating impact that Alzheimer's has on those close to somebody struck down by it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Ayesha Dharker, Roman Zeller, Scott Mullins.

 

Dir Florian Zeller, Pro Philippe Carcassonne, Jean-Louis Livi, David Parfitt and Simon Friend, Screenplay Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, from the play by Florian Zeller, Ph Ben Smithard, Pro Des Peter Francis, Ed Yorgos Lamprinos, Music Ludovico Einaudi, Costumes Anna Robbins.

 

F comme Film/Trademark Films/Cine@/AG Studios/Film4/Orange Studio/Canal+/Ciné+-Lionsgate.
97 mins. UK/France. 2020. Rel: 11 June 2021. Cert. 12A.