Director: Florian Zeller
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman and Imogen Poots, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams & Rufus Sewell
Run time: 1h 37min
The cruelty and heartbreak of dementia is showcased in a refreshingly unique and thoughtful way by filmmaker Florian Zeller in The Father. Based on his play of the same name, Zeller has put together two acting powerhouses in Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman resulting in a film that is hard to find fault in.
Elderly Anthony (Hopkins) lives with his daughter Anne (Colman) in her London flat and has done so for several months. In his head, however, it’s her that’s living with him, in his flat. As Anne struggles to cope with his increasingly deteriorating condition, he stubbornly refuses all offers of help, including a live-in carer, insisting it’s Anne with the problems, not him.
What’s distinctive about The Father is how the same scene is seamlessly presented in different ways. Without disrupting the flow, the narrative shows us Anthony’s distorted reality. Confusion turns to frustration which turns to anger. Hopkins brings an effortless charm to Anthony and he still carries a colossal presence. This is even more heart-breaking when he knows something isn’t quite right and noticeably shrinks into himself, the fear visible in his eyes.
With such an outstanding lead performance, it’s easy to overlook the rest of the cast. Colman is, once again, superb. Desperately wanting to do the right thing, but with a life of her own to lead, her struggles highlight the plight faced by those directly affected by watching a loved one fade in front of them. The effort of looking after her father takes its toll on her marriage to husband Paul (Rufus Sewell). He wants Anthony to go into a home, or ‘establishment’ as he calls it, leading to conflict between all three of them.
Zeller’s script never patronises, rather it has a melancholic air of authenticity about it. The regular loss of Anthony’s watch a tragically symbolic reminder that time works differently for those suffering from this devastating illness. There’s ingenious set design by Peter Francis as hallways and doorways in different locations look the same, mirroring and adding to Anthony’s distressed state of mind. There are tiny moments of delicate simplicity that will be all too familiar to many. Unloading the shopping only to then realise you don’t know why you’re left holding an empty bag. Forgetting where the forks go, so you place it in your inside jacket pocket. Not knowing how to put a jumper on. Little details like this are scattered throughout.
In these days of a global pandemic, there’s also a stark reminder that nurses and those working with the elderly deserve our respect and admiration. The tenderness, patience and empathy needed to placate those in their care is portrayed perfectly by Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots.
The Father is one of those rare films that lives up to the hype surrounding it. Towering performances, particularly from Hopkins make this a beautifully haunting watch. Have the tissues ready, because the final five minutes are brutal.
The Father is coming soon from Lionsgate UK.