In the spirit of Florence Foster Jenkins, Craig Roberts’ film The Phantom of The Open is the true story of ‘professional’ golfer Maurice Flitcroft. On a whim, Maurice decided in his 40s to take up golf and enter the British Open, despite having no professional experience whatsoever. He ended up scoring the worst ever round in the Open’s history: 121 points. And when the organization banned him in subsequent years, he would enter covertly using fake names and disguises.
Like Florence, Maurice became an icon of incompetence to the masses, the common man happily defying the elite. A charming goofball who’s just thrilled to be competing at all, and who’s having the time of his life, despite being comically inept. It takes the film a good half-hour to reveal just how bad he is, but the build-up is worth the wait. I think I laughed for five minutes straight once he finally started ‘golfing’.
Mark Rylance plays Maurice with a pitch-perfect sense of detachment, sincerity, and blithe contentment with his life. Granted, this does deflate the drama at times – when Maurice is in despair, it’s like watching a puppy having a bad day. You feel really bad, but you also know that he’ll perk up the second he finds a bone. But like Florence Foster Jenkins, the film offers an insightful, feel-good, laugh-out-loud commentary on society’s obsession with seriousness, and the undeniable social benefit of the village idiot. And also disco.