- Emma Simmonds
- 7 June 2021
Florian Zeller's double Oscar-winning drama features one of Anthony Hopkins' finest ever performances
Capturing the confusion of one of the most bitterly cruel of terminal conditions, The Father is an ingeniously constructed drama, the deeply impressive debut of French director Florian Zeller – already an acclaimed novelist and playwright. Co-scripted with Christopher Hampton, it's an adaptation of Zeller's 2012 play Le Père, tracking the mental deterioration and day-to-day disorientation of an elderly man suffering from dementia, alongside the reactions of those who care for him. It was the recipient of two Oscars at this year's ceremony, including a surprise win for star Anthony Hopkins.
In a film set in London, Hopkins plays Anthony, with Olivia Colman his devoted but exasperated daughter Anne. There are also appearances from Rufus Sewell as Anne's partner Paul, Imogen Poots as a carer who Anthony tries to disastrously impress, and Olivia Williams and Mark Gatiss as figures who muddy the waters of Anthony's already addled mind.
Hopkins has made a fair few dodgy career choices over the years, alongside some fun ones. Following his excellent work in The Two Popes, he does seem to be on a particular high right now, and his mesmerically nuanced performance in this meticulously judged film is right up there with his iconic work in The Remains of the Day or The Silence of the Lambs.
Despite its theatrical origins and domestic setting, The Father feels distinctly cinematic, with Peter Francis's inventive production design and Ben Smithard's claustrophobic cinematography trapping us in a subtly shifting, endlessly bewildering nightmare. It is a huge artistic triumph to so cleverly illuminate such a common yet often hard to comprehend condition, and amongst the most evocative and insightful depictions of dementia we've seen on screen; despite moments of lucidity and Anthony's dogged insistence that all is well, it shows the absolute impossibility of him ever regaining a solid footing.
Although there's great emotion to some of the scenes – dementia is unavoidably an utterly devastating disease – Zeller tends to swerve the overtly sentimental, instead cultivating compassion from aligning us so closely with the kind of protagonist who is too easily dismissed, so much so that it's like you're in his head. What unfolds is no doubt a tragedy but The Father never lays it on too thick.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 11 Jun.