Isn’t it curious how quickly life can pass you by before you realise you’ve not been living it. This is how Mr Williams came to be in his predicament. On the one hand he wanted to live the life of the businessmen he would see on the train platform as a child. On the other hand, he’s not realised how much time had passed without having any fun.
Like clockwork, Mr Williams (Bill Nighy), boards the train, says good morning to his subordinates and continues the journey in silence. Shuffling papers all day long there is little conversation or movement in his cramped government office. Nothing changes day to day, except when Mr Williams announces he will be leaving work early.
The worst news for anyone to hear came that day Mr William’s left work early. He has weeks to live. Suddenly Mr Williams becomes lost and unable to grasp what is to lay ahead. Withdrawing half his life savings out of his bank account Mr Williams heads to the ocean.
In a chance meeting Mr Williams befriends Sutherland (Tom Burke) at a cafe. Finding the courage to tell Sutherland of his bad luck, he also confesses he hasn’t lived his life to the fullest. This was all Sutherland needed to help an old man have one hell of a night. He took him to bars, showed him how to use the claw crane and took him to a hidden tent where inside all his wildest dreams could come alive.
Mr Williams didn’t go back to work for some days as he continued to find joy, though not always knowing where to look. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with his former employee Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) who was hoping for a reference. Mr Williams invited Miss Harris to lunch where he offered to write the reference. Miss Harris had an idea of who Mr Williams was and noticing this difference in his character warmed to his unexpected charm.
Eventually Mr Williams returns to work after some time off and sets to finalise a project he had put off for far too long. This final project to build a park wasn’t to appease those wanting it to be built. For Mr Williams, it was to leave something behind that would bring others joy and his last hurrah to make a difference.
The film is based on a novella and a film across multiple countries which gives it this well rounded rich foundation. The novella is a Russian story from 1886 The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. A name you’d recognise as the Author of War and Peace (1869). It is also a 1952 Japanese film, Ikiru, by Akira Kurosawa. The latest version is by Director Oliver Hermanus who isn’t new to building a world around a central character. Prior to Living Hermanus gave us the heart wrenching story of Moffie. A young South African man who has to complete two years compulsory military training while hiding his homosexuality.
There is something grand and wonderful about the entire film. It pulls you into the world of Mr Williams so much so that you become part of the scene. The colour pallet gives it a lifelike warmth. Which works beautifully with the cinematography which captures the simplicity of Mr William’s life with the stunning country and city life of England. Cinematographer Jamie Ramsay captures this visually splendid story of the 1950s with a gentlemanly feel. Ramsay also worked with Director Hermanus on Moffie but also brought the world of District 9 to life. His ability to see the world around the character to bring the audience in so they forget they’re watching a film is an effort unto itself.
To round out the visual treat is the score from Jim Barne who managed to compliment the gentleman and elegance of England. It wills the scenes with an emotion so carefully considered. But at the same time it never takes away or overpowers the audience.
It would be easy to say this role was written for lead actor Bill Nighy, though the maths doesn’t quite work out. So it would be fair to say Nighy was born to play this role. He embodies Mr Williams to become this person you feel you might know. His soft spoken word, the give and take he has with himself as he wants to say something but is fearful of either the action of doing so or the reply he may receive. Every moment in this film Nighy has considered Mr Williams actions and filled the scene.
Living is one of those once-in-a-lifetime films that just works perfectly. Everything fits together from all aspects and creates this world you very much feel part of. With the outstanding performance from Bill Nighy you will certainly have a moment or two about how you would handle the exact same situation. Did you live the best life you wanted?
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