Lancashire Times
Weekend Edition
Jack Bottomley
Media Correspondent
7:15 PM 12th July 2021

Review: The Father

Many great pieces of art come from adaptation, and when it comes to cinema you’d struggle to count the many films adapted from the stage over the years. Often these take the shape of a musical or extravagant story, but some of the best stage-to-screen transitions are actually those of a more contained dramatic or realistic nature. See the likes of Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon or Denzel Washington’s Fences for proof of this very fact. Yet, there is a knack to doing such material justice, especially when the work in question displays powerful issues and themes, and when it comes to power, you’d struggle to find another film like Florian Zeller’s directorial debut The Father.

The film looks at Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), who lives alone in his flat but his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) believes he needs a helping hand. Anthony is defiant, but as things begin to indecipherably spiral from one thing to another, he believes that something is afoot, while his daughter continues to fear for his supposed declining mental health.

The Father is absolutely shattering but vitally important. This story has transitioned beautifully from the stage, in a concentrated and intimate cinema experience that is heartbreaking, uncompromising and frightening to witness. As Zeller’s direction and screenplay (alongside fellow screenwriter Christopher Hampton) arguably delivers the greatest film ever made about dementia. Its success comes in the bold and unforgettable delivery, as we are transplanted into the mind of Anthony, and so the minds of the many unheard people who suffer from this cruellest of diseases, a disease which takes and takes and takes.

By being seated in the central character’s mind and observing his experience through his own eyes, we are witness to the maddening nature of this horrific disease. The Father - with its fragmented story and shifting perceptions and characters - intentionally loses you in the disintegrating truths which dementia forces people to endure and live with, over and over, a lot is lost in this tale but this film never loses its heart and compassion.

In this department Zeller’s film only flourishes further. This is an understanding piece of craft, a story determined to show a very real horror story, lived by millions from a specific point in their lives, until the day it takes so much that they are left only a shell of whom they used to be, and then eventually die. Ben Smithard’s cinematography traps you in this disturbed reality, as does the story but it is the heart which strikes you the hardest of all. The heart remains, and whether it’s the family that grieves the loss before it even happens, or the person slipping into their own uncertain internal hell, this film offers a hand to both sides. The Father understands the pain and presents it honestly for all to see and feel. And boy do you feel it, in particular the final 10 minutes are some of the most emotional you will ever witness and The Father is a hard but essential watch.

In the lead, the academy award winning Anthony Hopkins gives one of his greatest ever performances, which really takes some doing in a career like his, but he really is astonishing. In those aforementioned final moments, he pays off a whole film of fluctuating feelings and emotions, with a raw and flooring depiction of a man reverted back to his earliest innocence. A lost soul seeking comfort and assurance that all will be ok in the midst of this scary shapeshifting world around him. It’s heartbreakingly but masterfully acted. While there are some very complex and deep supporting performances by Colman, Rufus Sewell and Mark Gatiss especially, not to mention a surprising and poignant turn by Olivia Williams. It all adds further layers to a film that dives into the darkness of this disorder and the heartache.

As the tones of Ludovico Einaudi plays, the heartstrings are likewise tapped, reaching some mesmerising but tear-jerking crescendos. Anyone who has ever lived this story will know its pain, and this film stands as a testament to the strength of anyone who ever goes through dementia.

The Father is simply put unforgettable and an incredible achievement.

Director: Florian Zeller
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams
Release Date: Out Now (Cinemas)