Film Pick of the Week: Living - Review by Yvette Huddleston

LivingAmazon Prime, review by Yvette Huddleston

Adapted by novelist and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro from acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic Ikuru, which in turn was inspired by Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, this gentle, understated drama is an absolute gem.

Set in London in 1953, it tells a poignant story of regret, missed opportunities and second chances. Bill Nighy plays softly spoken Mr Williams, a career civil servant working at County Hall in the Public Works department. He has risen to a senior position over the decades that he has been employed there and heads up a small team in a claustrophobic, oak-panelled office where the occupants can barely see each other over the piles of paper and files stacked on their desks.

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Williams’ life is one of routine. He catches the train into central London from his suburban home which he shares with his son and daughter-in-law since the death of his wife. He is still grieving that loss and barely living at all, save for his weekly Tuesday night trip to the cinema. Then the diagnosis of a terminal illness turns his whole world upside down. His first instinct is to run away… he heads to Brighton where, in a seaside café, he meets louche writer Mr Sutherland (a lovely cameo from Tom Burke) who takes him on a boozy pub and night club crawl which ends with Williams emotionally singing a song from his childhood.

Bill Nighy as Mr Williams in Living. Picture: PA Photo/Lionsgate/Ross Ferguson.Bill Nighy as Mr Williams in Living. Picture: PA Photo/Lionsgate/Ross Ferguson.
Bill Nighy as Mr Williams in Living. Picture: PA Photo/Lionsgate/Ross Ferguson.

Realising he has done very little with his life, he doesn’t turn up for work several days in a row, takes his much younger colleague Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) for lunch at Fortnums – he tells her that all he ever wanted to be was a ‘gentleman’ and confides in her, but fails to tell his own son he is dying. There is one last thing he can do, however – to see through a stalled project for a playground on a bomb site, that might be his modest legacy.

The narrative, sensitively directed by Oliver Hermanus and beautifully shot by cinematographer Jamie D Ramsay, is enhanced by a perfectly pitched, gorgeous score from composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch which subtly highlights the complex, frequently repressed, emotions at play. Nighy was nominated for a BAFTA, an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his performance here – and while he didn’t win any of those awards, he deserves all the plaudits for a nuanced, authentic and very moving portrayal of a man who has led a small life, facing his own mortality.

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