Arts

Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins 'truly astonishing' in heart-rending Alzheimer's drama The Father

Damon Smith

THE FATHER (12A, 96 mins) Drama/Romance. Sir Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss. Director: Florian Zeller.

Released: June 11

THE mind plays tricks on us and the discombobulated title character in Florian Zeller's classy adaptation of his award-winning stage play, co-written for the screen by Christopher Hampton.

Set in the handsomely furnished London apartment of an octogenarian patriarch (Sir Anthony Hopkins), The Father slowly unpicks the seams of supposed reality and questions the reliability of a muddied memory.

Peter Francis's ingenious production design ramps up the unease.

As the fragile consciousness of the befuddled protagonist fractures before our tear-filled eyes, furniture, fixtures and colour schemes of eight rooms linked by a central hallway subtly change to heighten the disorientation and sow seeds of doubt about everything we see and hear.

It's a masterful demonstration of mood manipulation, reflected in contrasting warm ochre and cool blue palettes to represent a soothing past and an unsettling present filled with uncomfortable choices.

Hopkins deservedly won his second Academy Award as Best Actor In A Leading Role – and thwarted Chadwick Boseman's posthumous coronation – for his mesmerising performance as a man grappling with dementia.

Zeller's picture unfolds from his clouded perspective and the Welsh actor is truly astonishing at conveying the see-sawing emotions of someone who can't quite articulate that sense of slipping away ("I feel as if I'm losing all my leaves").

Hopkins whirls effortlessly from volcanic rage to tremulous gut-wrenching despair, and co-star Olivia Colman reacts beautifully to this cascading turmoil with a supporting performance of aching vulnerability, sorrow and guilt.

Anthony (Hopkins) lives in a plush apartment in Maida Vale with an elevated view of bustling life in the capital.

He is visited daily by his doting daughter, Anne (Colman), who is preparing to move to Paris with her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell).

"The rats are leaving the ship," Anthony mutters to himself, shortly before a new carer called Laura (Imogen Poots) cheerfully enters the fray.

Paul is evidently the driving force behind hushed conversations about putting Anthony in a home and the husband coldly voices his feelings when Anne is out of the room by asking his father-in-law: "How much longer do you intend to hang around?"

The beleaguered patriarch repeatedly misplaces a treasured wristwatch and becomes agitated when a different woman (Olivia Williams) enters the flat claiming to be Anne.

"There is something funny going on," he correctly surmises.

The Father will strike a heart-breaking chord with anyone who has watched an elderly relative succumb to the choking grip of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia.

Fleeting moments of recognition and clarity between Anthony and Anne are the most devastating because we know it could be mere seconds before the fog descends again.

Zeller remains tightly focussed on the actors, particularly Hopkins.

In the same way that Anthony cannot wriggle free from the chains of his delirium, nor can we.

Rating: 4/5

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Arts