That Good Night


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

That Good Night
"That Good Night is a fitting tribute to a great actor, but it is not as smooth a swansong as one would hope."

Based on a stage play, That Good Night draws inspiration from and makes frequent reference to the work of Dylan Thomas. Its characters fit within a particular literary milieu; there are probably more screenwriters and novelists in semi-retirement in the Algarve in film and fiction than have ever perambulated Portuguese streets. Ralph is one of them, a role in a play written originally for the Sindens (Sir Donald and his son Marc) by playwright and TV screenwriter NJ Crisp (who, along with producer Charles Savage, adapts). Ralph may have been written originally for another, but it is the now departed John Hurt who embodies him, filling the frame with a frail totality.

Though it has its roots in theatre, the film avoids many of the traps of adaptation from the proscenium arch, never feeling stagey. There is still at times a stiltedness, despite the fluidity of some of its constructions - in particular, though no pun is intended, at poolside. There is a moment where two characters arrange to talk in front of an auditorium which feels a little on the nose, and at times the cut and thrust of conversation is lost in the cut of editing. The few weaknesses, however, are overpowered by the strength of performance.

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Withering, is Ralph, and between his prickliness and ranginess there is scarcely enough for another to hold onto. Among those trying are his wife, Anna, played by Swedish TV veteran Sofia Helin, and his son, Michael, played by British TV veteran Max Brown, but they are not alone. Ralph, in his researches, has made contact with a mysterious organisation, and they have sent a visitor. Charles Dance is that stranger, a light linen suit and a heavier burden, the man from Del Monte as a pale rider, and in a series of scenes with Hurt they create a dazzling two-hander that hides in the middle of something that is more conventional than those scenes deserve. This is the daily bread of great questions of old age, of life and death and creation and destruction, but though Ralph's career had made him the toast of towns this fare at times comes close to being stale.

Though the film is strong, even stunning in places, anchored in Hurt, its subtleties are too often overshadowed by something that is, if not quite heavy-handed, then certainly not as deft as is deserved. It's hard to say why. There are delicacies in palette and indelicacies of score and vice versa, there are titles of works within the film that are unremarked and thematically notable and references within the film to its own title that feel overworked and painfully foregrounded. There is, perhaps, a case to be made of the duality in any author, the balance between that written and those writing, but your reviewer is not too literally bearded as a Marxist to tolerate that kind of self indulgence in others.

Director Eric Styles and his multitudinous co-creators have produced something that I did enjoy and was impressed by. That Good Night is a fitting tribute to a great actor, but it is not as smooth a swansong as one would hope. It is smooth in places, graceful, but the turmoil below is sometimes more technical than metaphorical, and while there is no expectation that it would go gently one might hope it would better rein its invisible horses.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2017
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A terminally ill screenwriter attempts to reconcile with his son, while planning how to end his life.
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Director: Eric Styles

Writer: NJ Crisp, Charles Savage

Starring: John Hurt, Sofia Helin, Max Brown, Erin Richards, Charles Dance, Noah Jupe, Sonita Henry, Amber Townsend, Joana Santos, Tiago Aldeia, Salvador Nery, Eloise Oliver, Juana Pereira da Silva, Georgina White, Kjersti Kaasa

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK, Portugal


EIFF 2017

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