That Good Night review – John Hurt shines in final lead role

Sadly, he’s the best thing in this over-sentimental drama about a gruff writer’s final days in picture-perfect Portugal

Sometimes cosmic misfortune is a film’s good luck. This creaky, sentimental drama might have passed gently into the televisual ether were it not that it granted the late Sir John Hurt his final lead role. (He subsequently took a supporting part in unreleased spy thriller Damascus Cover.) Its middling-to-minor pleasures stem almost exclusively from watching a sunhatted Hurt pottering around the Algarve as Ralph, an ornery old literary goat determining to use the days remaining in the wake of a bleak health diagnosis to organise the means and method of his passing, and attempt reconciliation with his estranged son.

Adapted from a play originally penned by NJ Crisp as a Donald Sinden vehicle, Eric Styles’ film has one other advantage in roseate location shooting: every poolside conversation will do wonders for holiday home sales. The human interaction, alas, remains hidebound: it’s another of those scripts about a writer where the protagonist has been developed at everybody else’s expense. Sofia Helin projects a thoughtful dignity as Ralph’s trophy wife, but her function is to absent herself so the boys can work through their issues; Charles Dance’s confidant is but a linen-suited device, conjured up to gauge the scribe’s internal doubts.

As he so often did, Hurt lends stiff material a measure of nuance and class, his plaintive growl nudging even Crisp’s more banal lines towards profundity: it practically counts as a public service that Styles should have got the actor to read Dylan Thomas before the closing credits. It nevertheless feels sad, if not sorrowful, that we’re mainly waiting for Ralph to die, not least so we can be spared from hearing another note of Guy Farley’s treacly score. The result, destined for quarter-full silver screen showings, inspires not so much rage against the dying projector light as rueful shrugs and tuts at the project’s muffed opportunities.


Mike McCahill

The GuardianTramp

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