The Reel Review
A terminal cancer diagnosis shakes a paper-pushing civil servant in 1953 London out of his dull, joyless and very ordinary life, to begin an impassioned mission to do something wonderful before his death, in this period drama starring Bill Nighy. The story from Nobel laureate and author Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day) is a very loose adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s iconic, 1952 Japanese film Ikiru.
With a meticulous color palette and lyrical, piano and strings-laden score reminiscent of that era, director Oliver Hermanus’ film has an almost poetic, dream-like feel to it. Nighy, best known for his more comic roles in Love Actually, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Shaun of the Dead, gives an exceptional, career-defining performance as Mr. Williams, a melancholic, overly restrained man frustrated at the prospect of dying alone with nothing to show for it. Alex Sharp (The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Hustle), Aimee Lou Wood (Sex Education) and Tom Burke (The Wonder, Mank) play supporting characters who help him discover joy and purpose.
The first hour of the film is an extremely subtle, very slow-moving fog of sadness – underscoring Mr. Williams’ lingering regret at living a shell of a life. It isn’t until the third act that the poignant moments start flooding in, as the man’s surviving co-workers start comparing notes on what he did in his final months to realize that Mr. Williams knew he was dying and was making his personal project – a children’s playground – a deeply moving, lasting legacy. While the oddly paced film doesn’t quite live up to its full potential, Living is still a beautiful story and Nighy shines.
• Living earned Bill Nighy, 73, his first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Actor, as well as BAFTA and SAG nominations. Screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro has received Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the film itself has been nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding British Film of the Year.
• Screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro says he had dreamed of doing a English remake of Ikiru for years, eventually pitching the idea to Nighy after he and his wife shared a taxi with the actor following a party.
• “The Rowan Tree,” the song Nighy’s character sings in the film, is a Scottish song written by Carolina Oliphant (a.k.a. Lady Nairne) that was first published in 1822.
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