That Good Night

 

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A great actor proves that his talent remained formidable to the end.

 
That Good Night
Sir John as Ralph

 

Sir John Hurt died in January 2017 and that means that we have had to wait for over a year to see this film in which he had his last leading role. The good news is that his performance is utterly sure-footed while his somewhat frail appearance matches that of the character he is portraying. This is Ralph Maitland a successful author living with his second wife, Anna (Sofia Helin), in a stylish villa in Portugal. Ralph has survived a heart operation (indeed he met Anna through her being the nurse who looked after him) but, as the film opens, he learns that he has but little time left to live. He summons his estranged son, Michael (Max Brown), who arrives with his girlfriend Cassie (Erin Richards) but, while Ralph wants to make up with his son and to confide in him, his main concern is whether or not he should embrace the idea of euthanasia and thus save Anna from having the burden of looking after him in his last months.

 

That Good Night is an adaptation of a play by N.J. Crisp. But what this film brings to mind is another movie, the 2016 film The Carer which gave Gilbert Adair his last credit and in which Brian Cox played a dying actor no easier to handle. There is another echo too since the other main character is a visitor (Charles Dance) who could be a former doctor offering euthanasia yet is presented instead as an other-worldly figure or a presence conjured up in Ralph’s imagination. This puts one in mind of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls although here the visitor functions as a way of enabling the desirability or otherwise of euthanasia to be considered in depth.

 

By no means bad but not a great film either, That Good Night (the title a reference to a celebrated poem by Dylan Thomas) escapes any sense of being a photographed stage play but still feels a small-scale work and it suffers from a banal music score by Guy Farley. Towards the end there is a feeling that the screenplay is too consciously geared to keeping the viewer unsure from scene to scene as to what Ralph’s fate will be and, ahead of that, there are clunky moments (as when talk between Ralph and his visitor is interrupted pointlessly to show us Anna in church). But the good things carry the day. If Helin, Brown and Richards offer competent support, Dance brings real presence to his role and the film is pleasingly photographed on location in colour and ’Scope by Richard Stoddard. Best of all, there is Hurt: you don’t need to be a completist to want to see his performance here. In theory, a late change of outlook on Ralph’s part might have seemed no more than a contrivance. However, Hurt is able to convey the feelings that motivate it with such conviction that he makes it seem real. This kind of subject matter on screen does not always find an audience but in this case let us hope that Hurt’s presence swings it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: John Hurt, Charles Dance, Sofia Helin, Max Brown, Erin, Noah Jupe, Joana Santos.

 

Dir Eric Styles, Pro Alan Latham and Charles Savage, Screenplay Charles Savage, based on the play by N.J. Crisp, Ph Richard Stoddard, Pro Des Humphrey Jaeger, Ed Mali Evans and Chris Timson, Music Guy Farley, Costumes Charlotte Morris.

 

Les GSP Studios/Goldfinch Entertainment/Monte Seco Management/the Loule Film Office, Portugal-Trafalgar Releasing.
92 mins. UK/Portugal. 2017. Rel: 11 May 2018. Cert. 12A.