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A Phantom of the Open review has an obvious problem – what exactly are you reviewing? Yes, obviously the feature film of that name, but what exactly is this intended to be – a love story, a reflection on the importance of family, a farce, a witty comedy, a fantasy, a critique of the class structure, a docudrama, or a work of fiction? In fact it is all of these things at various times.
A True Story... Ish
It is based on a true story, that of Maurice Flitcroft who, in his 40s, decided he wanted to win The Open Championship. So he took up golf; well, sort of. He didn’t join a club, or even play a single round of golf at a municipal course. What he did was get some mail order clubs and hit balls on the beach, fields and open spaces – and then enter Qualifying for The Open Championship of 1976.
He had no handicap, let alone one low enough to allow him to enter Open Qualifying, so he entered as a ‘professional’. His first-ever round of golf was in Open Qualifying. He shot 121. He was thrown out.
Over the years he continued to try to enter top competitions as a professional golfer using a variety of pseudonyms. He did manage to get into Open Qualifying again, before being rumbled after playing a few holes and being thrown out again.
The film has some genuinely funny deadpan lines. Mark Rylance gives a superb performance and makes Maurice Flitcroft more likeable than the book on which the film is based – book and film have the same writers, Simon Farnaby and Scott Murray – suggests he was.
Golf Purists Will See Holes
The film is beautifully shot. That some of the golf sequences do not ring true may offend some purists – caddies standing holding the flag with the bag on his shoulder; clubs grounded in bunkers, caddies walking into a bunker to talk to the player – but the film-makers can always excuse this as Flitcroft and his caddies having little idea what there were doing.
Others may be more irritated by the mangling of history. There is a good story to be told factually. Instead we get chunks of artistic licence which suggest that the scriptwriters were not confident enough of the material. For example, the script has the first stage of Open qualifying televised live and watched by a huge television audience as well as by large crowds on the course. Towards the end of the film we get a golfer, obviously meant to be Tiger Woods (although the script is careful never to name him) giving a speech in honour of Flitcroft explaining he was about to give up the game, but seeing Flitcroft four putt in Open qualifying made him reconsider.
At other times the film-makers are keen to show just how accurate their film is. Clips of Flitcroft’s media appearances are shown towards the end to demonstrate that the feature film has quoted sections of these word for word.
The Phantom of the Open is enjoyable, diverting and has several laugh-out-loud moments. But ultimately it cannot decide which stool it wishes to sit on and falls, albeit elegantly, between them all.
The Phantom of the Open (PG13), directed by Craig Roberts and starring Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, opens nationwide on March 18, 2022.
Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he worked as contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around 20 countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.
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