London, 1953. Mr. Williams, played by Bill Nighy, is a veteran civil servant, a cog in the city's stifling bureaucracy as it struggles to rebuild following WWII. After a shattering health diagnosis, it dawns on him he has not been living his life to the full. Amidst the fog of his paperwork, and his loneliness at home, he yearns to find fulfilment before it's too late. He is encouraged in his search by two younger colleagues - the vibrant Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood) and idealistic new recruit Peter (Alex Sharp) - and a hedonistic stranger, Sutherland (Tom Burke), encountered during a desperate trip to the seaside.
Enoyable, sometimes moving, early 1950s set London drama based on a 1952 Japanese film
- Living review by PV
I enjoyed this film despite its flaws - the sheer stereotyped repressed Englishness, for a start; then the attempts to diversify the story, regarding ethnicity; and of course the usual required focus on female stories. As such it reminded me a lot of DARKEST HOUR, in its cinematography, music and tone.
BUT I mostly liked it. I now want to try and watch the 1952 Japanese film on which it is based.
Kazua Ishiguro the British Japanese author (and former social worker) wrote REMAINS OF THE DAY, and so clearly likes that sort of stifled English male repression BUT it is a stereotype nonetheless, and a racial one which would not be accepted for other races or nationalities.
I am not sure I believe County Hall was like that in 1953 either - it is, rather, a version of quaint old-fashioned Englishness that the world WANTS to see.. And was there REALLY a Mr Singh working there then?
As for the seaside scenes - deliberately added to daub a splash of ethno-colour contrast on the austere post-war monochrome England of 1953. Do I believe such a man would have reacted that way? Not sure. As I said, I have to watch the 1952 Japanese film on which it is based to see what has been added here.
There are some obtuse scenes, which are confusing, with a man in a moustache and flashbacks. BUT then when one realises the director usually makes movies with a gay theme (like the excellent MOFFIE), it all makes sense. Maybe.
Too long, of course, and drags at the end a tad, but watchable so 4 stars.
First half or more of the film deals with a civil servant in 1950s Britain living a dull existance. A 6 months to live death sentence given to him by his doctor, has him self analyse his hitherto existence dwelt in a rut of his own making. Off he goes to live it up a bit and sample what he has been missing. All well and good, entertaining and engaging, however, the last part of the film is over sentimental as we learn more about him and his past deeds. The film drags on a bit at this point frankly so that the finale is a dissapointment. A shame as performances up to now were very good.
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.
Moving film if lacking the intensity of the original
- Living review by PD
“What would you do if you had six months left to live?” asks the doctor who diagnoses the faceless bureaucrat with terminal cancer in Akira Kurosawa's 'Ikiru', raising profound questions about how we choose to spend the limited time we’re afforded. And Ikiru's lessons translate well to mid-century Britain, courtesy of Kazuo Ishiguro, who does the heavy lifting of adapting it to 1953 London for director Oliver Hermanus. Bill Nighy gives us an impressive, understated performance, as a result of which film is undeniably moving, if not to the same degree that Kurosawa achieved. This is partly because of a truly awful, intrusive cloying sentimental score throughout (the scenes in which the strings are put away and the Pinteresque silences speak louder than words are much more effective), and partly because of a rather weak supporting cast and subplot which mean that the full intensity of Mr Williams' situation is dissipated somewhat at times. You do get the feeling that the film is rather afraid to step out of the shadow of its predecessor, although it's also fair to say that if it has the result of getting to you watch Kurosawa's film again (or Tolstoy's novella on which Kurosawa's film was itself based), then that is an achievement in itself.
Hermanus and his production team are generally successful at re-creating postwar London, opening the film up and trying to match its locations to the grainy old footage of the city glimpsed in the retro-style opening credits. The costumes, the customs, the ever-so-proper way of speaking (or not speaking, as is often the case) are spot on (although no smoking - a key period detail inevitably omitted). And with their neatly tailored suits and matching bowler hats, the film neatly depicts how the paper pushers in Public Works have realised that any initiative merely endangers their jobs and so spend their days referring cases to other departments - some things never change! Most importantly, the film's central message of it being a shame to have died without ever having lived is universally applicable to any age, and this comes over loud and clear.
Yet another snooze-fest drops off the seemingly endless conveyer belt of British dramas that lack even a scintilla of visual imagination. It’s the kind of film that’s advertised by the lead actor’s brilliant/unforgettable/remarkable (choose your own adjective) performance. Just plonk the camera in front of him/her and hey, we have a film. This one’s full of long, drawn-out, static conversations that drain it of any interest, whatever the subject matter. Naturally it has been nominated for awards, which is probably one reason why nothing improves in the British film “industry”.
I loved all the 50s period detail in this with men going to work wearing bowler hats. (I can remember in the 60s some men were still wearing bowler hats as they travelled by train up to London). Bill Nighy gives a great peformance but at times I struggled to hear what he was saying and I wished I had put the subtitles on. It is a sweet story but I did find it slow going at times. A minor quibble: in the blub the central character is described as a civil servant but he works for the now defunct London County Council. Ttherefore he is a local government officer, not a civil servant.
An exquisite little film, sad yet heart warming and starring Bill Nighy, one of the best British actors of his generation. This is an adaptation of an Akira Kurosawa film, Ikiru (1952), and here set in London in the 1950s. A time of class, bowler hats and social manners that one can best describe as establishment fuddy-duddiness. Nighy is Mr William, a dull, bureaucrat who runs the small public works department of the London Council and has done all his adult life. He's a widower and estranged from his son and daughter in law but his life takes a sudden turn with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Shocked he slowly begins to realise what a waste his life has been and sets out to change it in a relatively small but quite meaningful way. The narrative structure here is interesting and Nighy who carries the film so well is filmed as a lonely presence, almost ghostlike as he goes about his daily life. His work colleague, the ever cheery Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), is a contrast in whom he becomes infatuated albeit platonically and much to the horror of his family. Tom Burke has a small role as a bohemian writer who shows Mr Willliams a different side of life on one evening, which sets him on a path of personal redemption. This is a film about life and death and asks the inevitable question that little acts of kindness can be a huge achievement and shouldn't be left until death looms. A marvellous film and one to check out.
This film is thought-provoking, but also irritating in a number of ways. The plot is simple: local government bureaucrat (not civil servant!) Bill Nighy gets terminal diagnosis and decides to live a little in his last six months and thereby reveals that he is not quite what his colleagues thought, ie Mr Zombie.
By coincidence, in my very early working days in a similar bureaucracy the team I was in had a similar situation but involving two men; a man who had cancer in January and was dead by May, and a team leader who appeared dessicated but had a hidden fire in the shape of his passion, quite well concealed, for a beautiful young married woman in our team. However, the man with cancer just stayed at home and faded away; and the team leader never got further than intimate little talks with her in his office. But nonetheless, Mr Williams' behaviour in the film is fairly believable except his initial absence from the office after the diagnosis; someone like him would have arranged leave and then gone away to 'find himself', in the modern jargon.
The film raises questions about 'what is living' but answers them rather unsatisfactorily since what he proceeds to do is so mundane (including singinmg in a bar and getting a playground past planning constraints). The office and its inhabitants are also shown as a sort of dead zone, whereas in reality such places were full of emotion and undercurrents, rivalry and jealousy, whatever the surface appearances.
So far as casting goes, Nighy's performance is good, and less mannered than sometimes occurs . He is far too old at 70+ for the role; someone in his role at the time (early 1950s) would have retired at 60. Aimee Lou Wood is good as the young colleague whom he confides in. The rest of the cast of colleagues and family etc are adequate.
But there are considerable irritations at the poor period detail, and other lapses. The likelihood that all these people working in one office in central London would all have travelled from the same railway station outside London would have been zero. The railway line filmed is certainly not a line into London; and although Waterloo station is shown, the route from there to County Hall (the declared setting) is done wrongly. Men in local government then would not have worn bowler hats, which were much more for men in the City; if he wore a hat at all, Williams would have worn a trilby (which he does acquire once he goes off the rails). There is far too little smoking, with just an occasional nod to the prevalent habit (to take one example, the office they work in would have been full of smoke).
In my view the film's lapses arise partly from imposing modern values on the film but also from having a director and writer who had no experience of England in 1950s.
0 out of 0 members found this review helpful.
A Tale of Final Redemption amid the dusty files
- Living review by JG
I've seen this film twice. For me it's the best film I have seen for ages, being packed with gentle humanity. It evokes the spirit of its time, late forties - early fifties, so well. It has no extravagant flourishes just a steady exploration of character. Mr Williams's discovery of what he has for so long unconsciously craved is spelled out with quiet determination. Although so near the end of his life he discovers there is still time to make amends for his dullness and lack of achievement. His final few weeks are spent in a triumphant project which annuls this and he discovers powers he never knew he possessed leaving the playground as a tribute to his final efforts. His final journey, we might say, is something most of us will recognise in ourselves.
Living (aka Ikiru) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Living is one of those remakes that is so faithful to its source material it almost feels like a pointless exercise beyond its localization. It feels especially odd to remake Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, considering how legendary it’s become. But if for some reason you’ve never seen this Japanese classic of finding meaning in life - be it an aversion to black-and-white films or unwilling to read subtitles - this is a decent English interpretation of a familiar story.
While the general story shifts from Japan to England, most of the central premise remains the same, including the period of the 1950s. Bill Nighy plays Mr. Williams, an old but revered man among his bureaucrat colleagues in the Public Works department. Over his lengthy career, he’s become used to sending complaints and requests in a cycle of departments to avoid any work beyond the bare essentials. With his quiet tact, he’s seen as a legend, spoken of more in whispers than directly.
Williams is given unfortunate news when he learns he has a terminal illness and isn’t long for this world. He thinks about telling his children, but they seem far too distant and concerned with their well-being. Reserving to hide his diagnosis, he ditches work, grabs some money, and tries to figure out what it’s like to truly live beyond that office work. He’s not very good at it, but he still makes an effort. He hooks up with a local writer who indulges his desires to hit up the pubs, frequent the arcades, and try to sing along when a piano is playing. While trying to appreciate life, he also forms a bond with the former bureaucrat employee Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), inviting her to outings to movies, carnival games, and a drink or two. Of course, he realizes how this may appear, and only when he feels he’s taken this relationship too far does he confess his diagnosis and relents in returning to his office for a greater cause.
The film follows many of the familiar beats and scenes as Ikiru. There are two key scenes worth nothing. One is the scene in the bar where Williams requests to sing an old song with an emotional tone, only growing sadder as he continues. Ikiru features a similar scene, but it goes on longer as the rest of the bar watches this old man cry at a life squandered. Nighy’s performance features the old man trailing off in thought, holding back those tears, apologizing for showing any sign of emotion amid such a melody. We also get his last act of redemption of fulfilling the wish of a playground, his final days featuring him enjoying the swing within the lot he helped make a charming place for children. It’s a decent scene, although it can’t hold a candle to what Ikiru conjures with its emotional climax.
I find myself forced to look at the film from a different perspective, trying to see what those unfamiliar with Ikiru will interpret. As odd as that may sound, this made me appreciate Living all the more. The quiet and comforting nature of coming to terms with your mortality makes for a content picture centering on the little joys of life. Even amid a tough movie season of movies with a similar theme (Babylon, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Pinocchio), this film still works rather well for what it sets out to replicate.
Living is a solid remake of the Kurosawa classic. It doesn’t outdo the original and plays more like a decent cover song, but it’s a cover of an already strong song. For what little Living adds to this old narrative, it stands strong enough that one can only hope more people will seek out the original.
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