Rating: 3 out of 5.

What would you do if you had six months to live? That is the question faced by Mr. Rodney Williams. The repressed civil servant ekes out a passive existence in the county planning department in 1950s London. When Williams is diagnosed with a fatal illness, he initially feels his life is over. Rather than tell his son (Barry Fishwick) and daughter-in-law (Patsy Ferran), the widower takes a break from his responsibilities and travels to a seaside resort town. There he strikes up a conversation with a stranger to whom he unexpectedly reveals his diagnosis. Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke) is moved by his story and takes him for a night on the town. Williams decides he’s going to forget about dying and concentrate on living.

What follows is a delicate character study composed of precious developments. When Williams replaces his traditional uniform of a bowler hat with a trilby, the minor change in his wardrobe is pointedly noticed by a former co-worker. The friendship of youthful Miss Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood) occupies his leisure. When they’re spied having lunch together by a nosy neighbor, his son fears it could lead to a potential scandal. Williams is more concerned with rallying his underlings in the office around constructing a children’s playground. Its development has been bogged down by paperwork. Given his dwindling time, he’s inspired to speed up the process. The Oscar-nominated screenplay has been adapted by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go) from Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama Ikiru and is directed by Oliver Hermanus (Moffie).

Living is an exquisitely crafted period piece in service of a narrative that’s barely there. It opens with an elegant opening-titles sequence that perfectly embodies the cinema of the past. Full of archival footage, the intro sets the tone for a mood of an earlier era. Along with production design, costumes, and score, the elements combine to pull the viewer deeper into this world. Even vintage typeface announces the picture. An expectation that the words “The End” will appear as a coda will not go unfulfilled. The account is so sweet and modest I might have called it inconspicuous. However, the independent release from Sony Pictures Classics has attracted some notable accolades.

The chronicle is anchored by a restrained performance. Star Bill Nighy hasn’t always been so understated. He began his acting career in the late 1970s on the London stage. He also earned acclaim for his parts in British television, particularly the drama series State of Play (2003) and the political thriller Page Eight (2012). He was nominated for BAFTAs for both and won for the former. However, it was his amusing appearance in Love Actually that I became aware of his work. Indeed it was a breakout portrayal. Many more roles followed, including an ongoing presence in the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Underworld movie franchises. More recently, he was quietly affecting in the 2020 Jane Austen adaptation Emma. He’s sensitively subdued in Living too. So much so it garnered his first Academy Award nomination. I guess you could say it was his time.

Living debuted in theaters on Dec 23, 2022, and is still in limited release (410 U.S. cinemas at the moment)


3 Responses to “Living”

  1. I always liked Bill. That he’s been nominated for an Oscar–that’s great. I have it on my list to see before the Oscars.

    Liked by 1 person

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