If culturally we’re still clinging onto Bill Nighy as zany pirate radio presenter Billy Mack in Love Actually, then this film will help further establish him as a worthwhile actor in his own right. It follows 2018’s Sometimes Always Never, an underrated drama in which Nighy also shone.
Living is a stylish rumination on old age, dying and living to the fullest. Nighy plays widower Mr Williams, a manager at London’s County Hall who has let red tape suffocate him at work, while his wider life is joyless and repetitive. Rewritten by Kazuo Ishiguro from the 1952 Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru, the plot focuses on Williamson’s breakthrough that his life was intolerably boring.
Having realised this, he develops a passion to see through the development of a children’s playground on run-down land, a development he formerly would have let fall victim to workplace bureaucracy and probably wouldn’t have ever been green lit. Nighy gets to fully unpack Mr. Williams with a character study performance that is the emotional highlight of his career. He is an arresting face-actor, conveying the cold acceptance that comes with complacency with a lingering stare, and then the frightful reality of a medical diagnosis with the slow closing of eyes and the drawing of breath.
Director Oliver Hermanus gives what could have been a linear story poetic life. We’re sprung between disparate moments in a way that feels surprising and unexpected. There is particularly interesting use of light; high-saturation colours highlight vases on shelves and the cuts of a suit, bringing a fresh perspective of 1950s London.
A decent supporting cast prop up Nighy, most notably Aimee Lou Wood, who plays to the crowd that loved her in Sex Education, giving us another turn as a spritzy nerd with lots to say. She’s heart warming opposite Nighy as the person who ultimately enables Williamson to get a little more from life in the time he has left.
There are engrossing dinner table conversations and lingering ruminations between smaller cast members – often Williamson’s office team mates – that contribute towards a cohesive and touching image of a man who left it too late to live. #
Wrapped up in an hour and forty, Hermanus doesn’t linger: there’s an irony here about how this film extracts everything it can from a life that did anything but.
Living is in cinemas now