That Good Night review – a workmanlike swansong for John Hurt

Eric Styles’s film fails to match its star’s performance as a spiteful dying writer

In his final leading role, the late Sir John Hurt plays a terminally ill writer attempting to patch up his frayed relationship with his son. This is easier said than done. Ralph Maitland is not the kind of man who is inclined to go gentle into anything, let alone that good night (as the title suggests, the Dylan Thomas poem is a recurring motif). His body may be failing but his mind retains the venomous kill instinct of a scorpion. The beauty of Hurt’s complex performance is the helplessness in his eyes as his mouth spews its poisonous cruelty – he’s a hostage to what used to be wit but now just feels like petty spite. He takes an irrational dislike to his son’s girlfriend, sneeringly suggesting that her job, coordinating scientific conferences, is in fact a cover for some kind of niche-interest sex work.

So effortlessly excellent is he in the role that Hurt rather highlights the failings of the film elsewhere. Although Charles Dance, in an ambiguous role, is a typically class act, many of the other performances seem rather stunted in comparison. The film’s backdrop – the clean, hard lines of a villa in Portugal – is handsome enough but the workmanlike lens never lingers on anything, even Hurt’s endlessly expressive face, that might add texture to the story.

Watch a trailer for That Good Night.


Wendy Ide

The GuardianTramp

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