Opening 18 May 2023
Emerging from commuter trains, a procession of men uniformed in 1953 traditionality with bowlers perched atop their heads flow into London’s offices. Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp) is amongst them heading to his new job in the public works. Quiet as a tomb, the office overflows with stacks of paperwork demanding attention; their senior, the ascetic and imperturbable Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) presides at one end and Mr. Middleton (Adrian Rawlins) at the other with colleagues Mr. Hart (Oliver Chris) and Mr. Rusbridger (Hubert Burton) quietly working and barely visible. The anomaly, Wakeling quickly surmises, is Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood).
Women petitioners appeal to Mr. Williams who dutifully listens before passively shelving their file. Surprising everyone, Williams one day leaves early. The doctor’s alarming diagnosis leaves little recourse; without telling his son (Barney Fishwick) and daughter-in-law (Patsy Ferran) Williams heads to the seaside. There he meets Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke), reconsiders and returns wearing a fedora. Henceforth he pursues the lively and kind Miss Harris’ company simply because from her he hopes to regain the feeling of liveliness. Instead, she triggers a dramatic course of action that confounds colleagues and assuages his desire and conscience.
Living’s background story is as intriguing as the plot. The renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the catalyst for this inspirational drama that motivated the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film, Ikiru. Under Oliver Hermanus’ direction, working from Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay adaptation of Ikiru, Hermanus’ approach displays a fineness, subtlety, and subdued manner. Bill Nighy’s portrayal of the ruminative, humble Mr. Williams is exceptional: his minimalist gestures and sangfroid, observant yet often downcast eyes, placid resolution, and tempered pleasure. The supporting cast are splendid. Living pulsates gently from the tempo of Jamie D. Ramsay’s unwavering camerawork, Chris Wyatt’s blended editing and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s melodic music. Although a quiet, contemplative film that takes the measure of a person and those around him/her, Living nevertheless implies that “hope springs eternal.” (Marinell Haegelin)