There are some very smart filmmakers who would rather gnaw off their own hand than risk remaking a lauded classic, and then there are the filmmakers of Living. Director Oliver Hermanus and writer Kazuo Ishiguro have that rare mix of hubris, knowledge of film history, and love of subject that have led to adapting the screenplay of writer/director Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece Ikiru. To spend time comparing the two films is to miss out on the visual splendor, the layered beauty, and exquisite sadness of this new, decidedly Brit-centric iteration. Audiences who know the original will not only be drawn to rewatching Kurosawa’s film, they’ll find Bill Nighy’s nuanced interpretation of central character Mr. Williams heartbreaking and effecting, and the 50s-era post-war London setting fascinating. To be sure, Living is different enough and good enough to be compelling and worthwhile on its own.
Nighy is joined by an impressive list of costars that bring the same level of authenticity and emotional commitment to the retelling of a story of aging government worker, in this case a Mr. Williams, who journeys into self discovery only after the diagnosis of terminal cancer. The news leads to Williams seeking a way out of his stilted, stifling routine-driven, controlled life, beginning with a trip to the shore. There he meets and reveals his state to disaffected writer Sutherland (Tom Burke), who shares a long night in the most colorful, raucous parts of town. He develops an intimate friendship with a young former colleague, the inquisitive and vivacious Margaret (Aimee Lou Woods of Sex Education). At a luncheon together, she tells Williams the secret office nickname she used for him, Mr. Zombie. Later, in the late-night pub scene when he reveals his illness to her, there is just a subtle shift in tone in those beats between them, but together the actors command the air around them with a startling level of precision.
Nighy’s performance, especially as he partners in scenes with Lou Wood and Burke, is anchored in a universality of human yearning for meaning and connection that will resonate with viewers of all ages. It isn’t an emotional rollercoaster, it is heartbreak in slow motion. Other actors are building the emotional arc of the story together. Living is a thespian study in collaboration.
For the review in its entirety, go to AWFJ.org HERE.