The Father

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins

There’s a very watchable YouTube video in which, playing the publicity game, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster discuss his most recent film, The Father, hers, The Mauritanian, and in between share a few memories of The Silence of the Lambs, among other things. During the half hour Zoom call Foster asks Hopkins, in so many words, about his “process”, how he approached his character in The Father, what preparation he did.

“None… really,” says Hopkins, blowing what’s left of Method acting out of the water with a couple of words. They’re even more impressive once you’ve seen the film, which is not an easy watch, be warned, unless you’re the sort who cheers along to the sight of one man at the end of his life losing everything he has thanks to memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s… it’s never exactly specified.

There have been films on the subject before, and they tend to yank great performances out of people. Julie Christie in Away from Her and Julianne Moore in Still Alice spring to mind. But they were both younger people. Hopkins is now in his 80s. Losing your marbles is one of the daily worries for people of his age – “being an old guy now I was able to easily fall into it” he half-jokingly puts it in the Zoom call.

It’s a gruesome, harrowing, awful fate and the brilliance of the script (adapted from Florian Zeller’s play by Christopher Hampton) is to put us right inside the mind of the person falling to bits. He’s become the camera, in essence. His daughter, Anne, is played by Olivia Colman one minute. Then the next she’s played by Olivia Williams. One minute the new carer – the latest in a long line – looks like Imogen Poots, the next it’s Olivia Williams again.

It’s confusing and, of course, it’s meant to be. That’s what he’s experiencing. Where does Anthony (as his character is called) live? Is it in his splendid mansion flat, or does he now live in his daughter’s place? The venue switches, abruptly. Why does Mark Gatiss keep turning up, a supercilious sneer (no one does it better) on his face, to bully the old guy? Is Rufus Sewell a son, a son-in-law, some other relation? Why is it chicken for dinner every night? Is Anthony’s doctor’s surgery really situated in the same building as his place, or his daughter’s place, or wherever he lives?

interviewing the new carer
Imogen Poots as the latest carer

And Anthony’s obsession with his watch. He’s mislaid it. Again. He must have it. It’s of prime importance. It’s never stated baldly, nothing is, but time is now exceedingly precious to Anthony, that much he does still know. And the watch, at least, is in his control.

If forgetting is awful, The Father’s other grim observation is that it brings with it another danger – suddenly remembering again, as Anthony does when, in a sudden moment of near clarity, he recalls his other daughter, the one who died. That’s why she never comes to visit.

It’s a film with awards-bait written all over it. Everyone in it is good, Williams, Colman and Poots particularly, but it’s Hopkins’s show and he gets to run the full gamut of emotions, from booming fury (no one better at that than Hopkins), to flirting boyishly with his new carer (Poots), to abject whimpering misery, crying on a nurse’s shoulder for his mummy.

Hampton (or Zeller, not sure which) has written Hopkins’s lines to a semi-theatrical rhythm, which suits his delivery brilliantly. There’s also the script’s occasional theatrical tendency for one actor to reiterate what another has just said – I have no idea why theatre does this – but then, like Michael Haneke’s Amour (a close cousin), this is a stagey film, set largely in the confines of several rooms.

The “Kafka problem” – how to tell the reader/audience that the unreliable narrator is unreliable without being ham-fisted about it – has been sidestepped thanks to the age of the central character. Dementia and therefore unreliability go with the territory.

“I feel like I”m losing all my leaves,” weeps the distraught Anthony at the end of what has been a powerful drama offering little in the way of comfort. I wanted to stop watching and at the same time couldn’t.

The Father – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021


James McAvoy as the deranged cop Bruce Robertson in Filth




The last film I saw that had any Irvine Welsh involvement was The Magnificent 11, a comedy so peculiarly inept that I started to think it was deliberate, a tax write-off perhaps, or a spoof of depressing British comedies of the early 1970s, in which girls with blue eye-liner would shed an ill-fitting bra to reveal dog-eared breasts.


Jon S Baird’s adaptation of Welsh’s 1998 novel is far more what we expect from the writer of Trainspotting. Welsh has been out of fashion just long enough to be due a comeback, but is this what our New Puritan age is clamouring for – the sweary, druggy, skanky story of a very naughty Edinburgh copper?


The answer to that question will be weighed by the tonnage of bums on seats. Meanwhile, there’s James McAvoy’s performance to enjoy. It’s a big Oliver Reed man-beast of a turn with McAvoy as the beefy, hairy, bloky Bruce Robertson, a foul-mouthed, bipolar, sweaty Jock copper with stained teeth who is shagging, snorting and bull-charging his way towards a personal and career meltdown.


Outside Robertson’s head everything is Miss Jean Brodie by comparison. His fellow officers are capable, sensible, down to earth. There’s John Sessions, all bumptious authority as Robertson’s boss, while Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots are the 21st century cops who know how to bend to political correctness and how to bend it their way, unlike Robertson.


At the dusty Masonic meeting all of them routinely attend Robertson hooks in with a tweedy owlish character called Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), an unlikely escort towards the brink. The women in Robertson’s life are Chrissie (Kate Dickie, again heroically getting her kit off for Scotland in some athletic sex scenes), and Bunty (Shirley Henderson), whom Robertson is harassing with sex-pest phone calls, just for the hell of it.


With nods to Dennis Potter, when it’s not following Robertson as he ricochets through police duties, Filth plays interior fantasy as exterior reality. Most obviously in Robertson’s scene with a taxi driver (played by David Soul) as the two lip-sync along to Soul’s 1977 hit single Silver Lady while backing singers pop up from the back seat to contribute ooh-ahhs. But there are other hallucinatory episodes, in which Robertson is visited by a crackpot Australian shrink (Jim Broadbent) who goads his patient on to even worse excess. All very Singing Detective and very funny.


But never mind the interludes, what drove this big bad man to this pretty pass? You know, I don’t care. And I don’t think Welsh really does either. His main focus is to wind up deluded grotesques and set them off running around causing damage, most particularly to themselves. He’s never been that great at what you might call the comedown, the getout. Luckily, for the most part, what we get here is the good stuff – a violent frothing custodian of the law taunted by visions of people in animal heads as he falls apart in front of our eyes.


It is hugely enjoyable. But Filth also insists on being grown up and explaining things. And the more it goes into Robertson’s psychological motivation – his brother’s early death, his wife’s absence from the marital home – the less I enjoyed it. It really is a film of two parts. Part one is kept afloat by Welsh’s funny, fast and sweary energy and McAvoy’s cortisol-burning performance as a Rabelaisian monster doing what the hell he wants and succeeding because he’s smarter and more driven than the others.


Part two is the descent. And after the fireworks of part one, the drool and sentimentality of part two is something of a downer. And without a compensating lift in pace elsewhere, it’s not surprising that, at the cinema I saw this at, people started to shift in their seats.


A relation of Woody Harrelson’s cop-out-of-time in Rampart, Robertson is a brute, but he’s doing what a lot of us would like to do. He’s behaving badly and he has the wit and the balls to get away with it. As Filth hits the home straight it suddenly asks us – in a “now look, you’ve had your fun” volte-face – to engage emotionally with people we were being encouraged to laugh at only a few minutes before: bored Henderson, timid Marsan, oversexed Dickie, ridiculous Sessions. The first half of Filth is pretty near perfect and, you know, we get it, we know Robertson is not a nice man, the film’s title is more than just an allusion to a nickname for policemen generally. Director Jon Baird keeps faith with the original novel, but he loses sight a little of what has made his film so entertaining. Irvine Welsh isn’t infallible – see The Magnificent 11 for confirmation. Couldn’t the director have just sent the raging Robertson off over a cliff, Thelma and Louise style?


© Steve Morrissey 2013