FOUR AND A HALF STARS Mr Williams lives a well ordered life until he learns he's unwell. Terminally so.
PERIOD DRAMA UK English #LIVING
Starring Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood
In post-war Britain amid a sea of grey suits, bowler hats and regulations, Mr Williams (Bill Nighy), a humourless senior civil servant, learns he’s unwell. Terminally so. Having spent his life conforming to the way of things, Williams decides it may be time to live a little. Not a lot, he’s British after all, but he’s come to understand that he’d like to leave a small mark on the world.
None of this comes easy. An unhappy widow, the solitary figure has precious little in the way of a relationship with his son and next to none with his colleagues. Williams may have their respect, but it’s poor company. He’s lived through two wars and is a product of the crisp military order that came with it. Not so a junior colleague (Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood) whom, unintentionally but not unwillingly, gives him the courage to push back the crushing weight of bureaucracy and help a group of women create a children’s playground. This small contribution would, in a small way and for a small time, make people’s lives, including his own, a little better.
Based on Akira Kurosawa’s IKIRU, this exquisite film is directed by Oliver Hermanus (BEAUTY) from a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro (REMAINS OF THE DAY). Rightly nominated for two Academy Awards including one for Nighy’s sensational performance, it doesn’t put a foot wrong. From the opening scene you can feel the nervous change afoot as a new generation start to feel their freedom, while the old guard, traumatised by war, hold on to the past. Williams, very much a man of the latter is beginning to feel the appeal of the former. He goes on a singular drinking spree before sobriety and purpose take over, their hold a little less firm than it once was.
This is a film which tells its story from the margins as much as it does from centre stage. Emotional context is found in the backgrounds, gestures, secondary characters and their responses; all of which slowly builds a comprehensive portrait of Williams and his world. It’s said that Japan and England (especially that of the 1950s) has much more in common than many realise: the ‘mustn’t grumble’ conformity one among many features. As a man who straddles both worlds, Ishiguro has a singular view that has led to some of the most compelling work in this space (think THE REMAINS OF THE DAY or NEVER LET ME GO). The combined talent on screen and off has produced a shattering film of both incredible sadness and hope, led by one of the best in the business.