After a year of being shuffled around the Covid-hit release schedule, The Father finally arrives on the big screen, hoping to show why it generated so much buzz on the awards circuit. Sir Anthony Hopkins won a second Oscar at 85 years old for playing Anthony, a retired man battling against advancing dementia. His memory of places and people begins to shift, making him belligerent against his daughter (Olivia Colman) and carers (Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams). As his grip on reality begins to mingle past and present, he becomes unsure who to trust, and his loved ones’ despair.
Director Florian Zeller, adapting his own stage play, uses the conventions of body horror and plays with the audience’s perception to vividly portray this frightening position. An ensemble cast shift roles, with Poots, Mark Gatiss, and Rufus Sewell all introducing themselves as different people in Anthony’s life. Zeller doesn’t really clue in the viewer, meaning we are in Anthony’s shoes trying to piece together the threads of what’s happening. It’s brutal and heart-wrenching, but it is brilliantly composed.
Hopkins has spent much of the latter part of his career taking what many perceive as money roles. The star has mentioned his indifference toward his part in the Marvel Universe (“this is not really my world” he told a conference in 2013 while promoting the second Thor film), and has turned up for the paycheck in Transformers: The Last Knight among others.
Here, he reminds us why his name still carries weight. He’s a frightened, proud man shielding his confusion with bluster and aggression. As much as you sympathise with Anne, Anthony’s futile attempts to rage against the dying of the light become the most powerful image. Dementia is a growing problem as life expectancy grows, and there will be many people who see their own experiences in arguments about stolen watches or lost loved ones.
Capped by one of the most harrowing speeches you’ll see all year, The Father belongs in that special category of films that are brilliant but may require a bit of a break before you see them again (see also 2018’s Cold War, or 2012 Oscar winner Amour). Even in as profilic a career as Hopkins’ it’s likely to remembered as one of his finest moments.
The Father is in cinemas from 11th June.