The Phantom of the Open Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Tragicomedy , UK , 2021 , 106 min
Producer: Craig RobertsCast:Mark Rylance , Sally Hawkins , Rhys Ifans , Jake Davies , Christian Lees , Jonah Lees , Mark Lewis Jones , Johan Myers , Simon Farnaby , Afsaneh Deruye

Worldwide gross: $4 million

Retro-British, sympathetic, slightly naive and sentimental.

UK, early 1970s. Sixty-year-old Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) works as a crane operator at the Vickers-Armstrongs shipyard. He is married to Jean (Sally Hawkins) and they have two twin children who are into disco dancing. They also have a son, Michael (Jake Davis), from Jean’s previous marriage. Michael is making a good career at the shipyard and has a chance to become a high-level manager there.

Maurice is burdened by the fact that by his sixty years he has not managed to achieve something significant. At one time, when he proposed to Jean, he promised her travel, champagne and jewelry, but in the end they lead a very modest life, and Maurice has no prospects for improving it.

One day, Flitcroft saw the World Match Golf Championship in Piccadilly on TV, and he suddenly decided that he needed to succeed in golf – a game that he had never played, and which had always been considered entertainment for wealthy snobs. But Maurice thought that everyone has the right to play golf, so why shouldn’t he, a shipyard crane operator, take part in the Open Championship? What will stop me, thought Flitcroft?

He began to learn how to play golf from book guides he borrowed from the library and started practicing on the playgrounds he sneaked into because they just wouldn’t let him in and he didn’t have the money to join a club, and he just on the beach.

Despite the fact that Flitcroft had no idea about any official golf handicap, he, with the help of Gene, simply forged documents for an application for participation in the championship and, oddly enough, his application was accepted.

In the qualifying round of the Open Championship itself in 1976, Flitcroft had the worst result in the history of the tournament, scoring 121 points (49 points more than the previous worst result): he was shown a lot on TV, where he was mocked by commentators, but Maurice became very popular – ordinary people, as hardworking as Flitcroft, believed that Maurice had “broke the system” by infiltrating the tournament for the pompous rich. And that’s what these idiots need.

***

Interestingly, this is based on real events. Indeed, there was such a crane operator Maurice Flitcroft, who managed to trick him into the British Open Championship, where, on the one hand, he became a laughingstock, but, on the other hand, he became famous and gained many fans at the same time.

For these frills, the R&A association issued him a life ban on participation in all its competitions, but Flitcroft put this ban, as they say, with a large device, and began to participate in the championships in wigs and with a fake mustache under all sorts of stupid pseudonyms, like Jean Paychek, Arnold Palmtree, Count Manfred von Hoffmanstel and so on.

There were a lot of interesting and funny things connected with this, but I will not talk further about the real story, because there many moments were shown in the film.

Actor and writer Simon Farnaby wrote a book about the story of Flitcroft, which was published in 2010, and in 2017 director Craig Roberts decided to make a film about this man. This idea was supported by Baby Cow Productions, owned by the very famous British comedian Steve Coogan, the script was written by Simon Farnaby himself, after which the project started.

By the way, the original title of the picture contains a certain pun – it is called The Phantom of the Open (like “The Phantom of the Championship” – a clear reference to the “Phantom of the Opera”). However, the Russian-language version is quite good: I won’t throw a stone at the distributors here, because that’s what they called this person – The Phantom of the Open.

I must say that not much is known about the real Maurice Flitcroft – despite the fact that he gave out a lot of interviews. Yes, a simple hard worker, a kind of cockney, yes, he tricked his way into the Open Championship, where, on the one hand, he became a laughing stock for TV commentators and part of the audience, aroused the wild anger of rich snobs because this stinker dared to invade the holy of holies – GOLF itself , while at the same time he became the idol of ordinary people, because he took it and, as they say now, “hacked the system.”

Why did he do it, what motivated him? He knew that he would expose himself to ridicule. But at the same time he was counting on something. Was he just a freak seeking fame and getting it? Was he a man obsessed with a dream and ready to endure any ridicule for its sake?

We don’t know. In the film, Flitcroft could be shown in any way – very different. Craig Roberts showed him rather as a dreamer – a man who simply realized his dream, and when he was banned from participating in tournaments, he did everything to continue to realize this dream.

The picture is staged in an old-fashioned manner, and even deliberately stylized under this manner. But this looks quite logical, because we are talking about the seventies of the last century: this era is recreated here, and this form of showing this era, in my opinion, is quite consistent with the task.

Yes, the general style of the film is very complacent, at times naive and sentimental, but this is not in the nature of explicit manipulation of the feelings of the audience, which I usually really dislike: the director just wanted to show the story of this person in this way, and he, of course, has a right.

Mark Rylands is a wonderful actor. He achieved real fame after fifty years, playing in Twelfth Night with Stephen Fry, Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, for which he received an Oscar, in The Trial of the Chicago Seven, where I really liked him, although he played a minor role, as well as in “Don’t Look Up” and especially in “Suit”, where he played a major role.

Mark belongs to that rare breed of actors who, having the most ordinary and seemingly completely forgettable appearance, are able to create very vivid, yet diverse images. It is enough to compare his roles from the above films – they are very, very different.

Mark built the role of Maurice Flitcroft quite filigree: slow, very peculiar speech (especially the manner of pronunciation), eyes not concentrating on something, while an almost constantly present smile, as if showing that he knows something that others do not know . The image turned out to be very nice: sincere and really touching – Rylands is a great master at this. The very case when many meanings are hidden behind an external discreet image.

This is the same British hard worker-loser, an absolute outsider who dared to challenge the pompous public, and even when he was ridiculed, he calmly continued to do what he considered necessary, winning the favor of ordinary people.

Did he get fame – yes, he did. Did he make any money on it – no, he didn’t. But he wanted to prove something to himself and others, and he did it. And the fact that he made a mockery of not himself, but this “super-elite sport” – yes, only honor and praise to him for this, because any “elite sport” simply requires some cool freak, like Flitcroft, to get there, and let those rich morons clear their throats, which the real Maurice did.

A very good actress Sally Hawkins plays here his wife, who not only fully supports her husband, but also helps him realize his dream. The role is somewhat naive and straightforward – in terms of the script – but Sally played her perfectly, I really love this actress. Therefore, I really liked it, although I understand that the character is somewhat simplified in the script.

Well, I also note the wonderful British actor Rhys Ivans, who here played the kind of villainous golf club owner Keith Mackenzie. Also, the role is not to say that it is very deep, but Ivans is good in any role.

And here, the author of the book and screenwriter Simon Farnaby appeared in a cameo, who played one of the French participants in the championship. Plus, the real James Flitcroft (one of Maurice’s twin sons), here plays one person from the crowd (in the cast – “Drunk Man 1”), cheering Flitcroft.

I like it. No, of course, this is such a completely optional film, it’s a little naive and sentimental, but this is the story that the creator of the picture wanted to tell in this way, and it was perfectly played by wonderful actors – Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins. Only because of them it makes sense to watch this film, which I did, which I did not regret at all.

PS Some photos of the real Maurice Flitcroft. Several videos of him are shown at the end of the film.

The official trailer of the film.

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