A hard working man with no life outside his boring job discovers he is terminally ill and decides he wants to help people before he passes away.
Every great actor has a film that defines their career. Maybe for some actors your defining role will be different to somebody else’s but I guarantee that there will always be one role that when somebody mentions an actor your mind will go back to. For me now whenever somebody mentions Bill Nighy (Love Actually) my mind will immediately go to Living.
Directed by Oliver Hermanus (Beauty) Living sees Nighy play a humourless civil servant named Williams who works in a 1950s Council Office that is a bureaucratic nightmare. Here workers never seem to actually get any work done and as newcomer, Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp – The Hustle), soon discovers anyone that comes into the office with an enquiry is sent on a never-ending journey from department to department as the buck keeps getting passed on.
Williams’ life changes forever though when he is told that he is terminally ill. Instead of telling his son Michael (Barney Fishwick – Call The Midwife) and daughter-in-law Fiona (Patsy Ferran – Darkest Hour) the news he draws his life savings out of the bench and goes to a seaside town where he plans on killing himself.
However, when a young writer named Sutherland (Tom Burke – The Souvenir) shows Williams the night of his life and shows him how to ‘live’ he decides to not go through with his suicide and instead arrives back home eager to make a difference before he dies. Here he decides to help a group of women who want to turn a World War II bomb site into a playground and to see that his co-worker, Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood – Sex Education), achieve her dream of a better life.
But Williams’ secret is threatened to be exposed when those around him begin to wonder about his closeness with Margaret and the two soon become a victim of gossip which infuriates Michael and Fiona.
There is a strange power to Living. It is the kind of film that you can’t begin to watch without soon starting to think about things from your own life. Director, Oliver Hermanus, keeps a sombre tone throughout the film while screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go) delivers a near perfect script that allows enough silence to let its audience take in what is happening and then think about it deeply. Often these days it feels like modern day cinema needs to spell out everything for the audience or signpost things before they happen – that never happens with Living. Instead, Ishiguro’s screenplay will deliver a moment and then let the audience work out for themselves what exactly it meant. Having your mind made work during a film only makes the cinematic experience more personal as far as I am concerned.
The slow pace of Living seems to enhance not only the message of the film but also the performances of many of the cast. Bill Nighy is sensational as Williams – here we see an actor who knows that facial expressions are just as important as dialogue and often throughout the film it feels that Nighy is able to display a thousand emotions with just one glance or nod of his head. His scenes here with Aimee Lou Wood are beyond amazing and she herself puts in a performance that shows why she needs to be considered one of the most talented young actresses out there at the moment. At the end of the day though Living is a film that is dominated by the presence of an actor in career best form and it is easy to see why Bill Nighy earned an Oscar nomination for his performance – it was well and truly deserved.
The only flaw of the film seems to be the inclusion of Wakeling. While his character is the perfect vehicle to allow an insight into the job that Williams does there are often times when the character isn’t there, ie at Williams’ house or on his trip to the seaside, so it almost feels like he becomes redundant and means that Alex Sharp is under-used as an actor. Still that is a pretty small gripe for a film that otherwise is sensational.
Do not let the slow pace of Living put you off. This is a beautifully told story that we can all learn from so sit back and enjoy one of the best acting performances that we have seen in a number of years – thanks to the talented Mr Nighy.