by Geoffrey Churchman

This is one of those comedy/dramas which in the ever more crazy world we live in now, provides much needed chuckles for light relief.

At the start there is the statement that it is based on a true story, which is commonly seen, although it’s always a stretch to believe it all actually happened. But TV archive footage is shown at the end of this to confirm the fundamental aspects at least.

Maurice Flitcroft is a solid 45-year old working class bloke who lives with his wife and three adolescent sons in a red brick row house in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, and operates a crane at the local shipyard. In 1975 the shipyard is going to be nationalised, something the British Labour government of the time was heavily into, and there are rumours of big redundancies. One night while switching channels on his new tele, he gets a broadcast of the British Open golf tournament. What a great thing to take up, he thinks.

Although more a game of skill than athleticism, golf is not quite so easy to take up in England and he learns that there is a 2-year waiting list to join the local club. Never mind, he’s going to DIY it anyway and as it has a £10,000 prize (probably about 10 times that in today’s money), sends off an entry form for the 1976 Open despite never having played a round of golf before. As he states on the form he is ‘professional’ his entry gets accepted.

The inevitable happens at the event and his stroke average per hole is very high to the point where officials decide he’s there to make fun of them, and they are not amused. A journo for The Sun is amused, however, and makes him a tabloid celebrity. The live broadcast does the rest.

For his oldest son, trying to make his way up the corporate ladder, his dad’s exploits are something of an embarrassment. For the two younger sons, though, who are twins and disco dancing competitors in the style of Saturday Night Fever, it doesn’t matter and give dad support.

After being asked to leave the 1976 Open, he tries again in 1978 under an assumed identity, but it doesn’t take long for the organisers to suss who he is.

Needless to say, apart from The Sun story, it brings in little money and life deteriorates. But a surprise letter from Michigan in America inviting him to an all expenses paid worst golfer event named in his honour back in 1976 works out well to revive his spirits. It seems the Americans love an underdog outsider who tries hard. There are other briefly appearing characters who provide an international flavour such as a Spaniard whose English isn’t as good as Maurice’s Spanish which itself is basic.

While something of an emotional roller coaster, mostly funny but with some pathos, the overall theme of “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again” comes across strongly and should impart inspiration for novices at the game, and other things.

The director manages to capture the zeitgeist well with 70s hairstyles and clothing, and of course, the cars of the time (which for me, having driven a few British cars of the 1970s were more a cause for memories of frustration and sizeable expense.)

The actor in the lead, Mark Rylance is excellent at conveying every aspect of the character, without appearing larger than life. The other actors are believable too, except maybe the disco dancing twins, but we’re told at the end they actually were champions at it.

The graphic special effects are perhaps a bit corny but don’t detract, and you can’t help wondering how many of the hairstyles you see are wigs. The songs from the time are inevitable, for me not too much a cause for nostalgia.

It’s a film I recommend for the ordinary guy who’s a wannabe and (almost) could-be.

The Phantom of the Open, 106 minutes is screening at The Shoreline.