|Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke, Adrian Rawlins, Oliver Chris
|March 16, 2023
He’s played a rock and roll legend (Love Actually), an immortal pirate (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), a World War II German General (Valkyrie), a time travelling father (About Time), and a Minister of Magic (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I). In a film career which has spanned four decades, it’s not until now that Bill Nighy has finally earned a first Oscar nomination. He’s up for best actor in a leading role for his superb lead turn in Living.
Given the Academy tends to honour flashy performances where actors undergo physical transformations and/or imitate real-life people (subtlety is rarely rewarded), it’s nice that Nighy has been recognised for this particular role. Set in London 1953, he plays one of the most boring people you could ever imagine. Mr Williams is a humourless, conservative Council bureaucrat who goes about each day with monotonous routine. A young staff member (Wood) has nicknamed him “Mr Zombie” because he’s trudging through life without any sense of joy or spirit.
Movies about rediscovering one’s self are not new. As Andy Dufresne said in The Shawshank Redemption, “get busy living, or get busy dying.” With this particular film, the transformational change arises from a trip to the doctor where Mr Williams is told he has terminal cancer and just a few months left to live. He’s not the kind of person to scream out or shed tears but, even from his muted response (“quite”), you can tell he’s rattled by the diagnosis.
We follow Mr Williams as he takes time away from work and embraces new activities. These includes lunch at posh restaurants, evening drinking sessions with newfound friends, and even a dose of pub karaoke. The film is about a lot more though. We see Mr Williams contemplate his legacy and what small mark he can leave on the world for when he’s gone. There’s also the question about whether he should tell friends and family about his illness. In the same circumstances, who would you choose to confide in?
Directed by South African Oliver Hermanus and faithfully adapted from Ikiru, the 1952 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa, Living is an affecting motion picture. It would be easy to overplay the role but Bill Nighy is near-perfect as he extracts just the right dose of sympathy from audiences. There are distinctive scenes (a new staff member being introduced to Mr Williams’ morning transit routine), unusual details (everyone referred to by their surname, the framing of cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay), and a time-shifting finale which packs a strong emotional punch.
Backed by a beautiful music score from French composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Living is another strong entry in the current award season. A film to savour and remember.