When I heard of Living, I heard that it starred Bill Nighy. I’ve always loved any film that Bill Nighy has been in, mostly because of the brilliance of his performances. Whether he is the star or a secondary character, he always brings charm and skill to the films he’s in. After watching Living, I can state unequivocally that it is one of his best performances to date, blending understated emotion and grace to the role. The story is poignant despite being slow and explores the beauty of life and death with exquisite performances, the film full of life.
Living is a dramatic film directed by Oliver Hermanus from a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, adapted from the 1952 Japanese film Ikiru directed by Akira Kurosawa. Ikiru itself was inspired by the 1886 Russian novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. In the film, set in 1953 London, a bureaucrat, Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), runs his department, the county Public Works, with rigidity and rules. However, he soon learns that he is facing a fatal illness. As he grapples with this truth, Williams connects with a young woman who he once worked with, Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood). She helps him embrace life as he leads the department, including young Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp), in one final mission.
I am sure there are others who can sum up this film better than I can, but one of the first elements I took note of was the beautiful cinematography. There is an aspect of the film that highlights the beauty of the landscape but also the dreariness of London. As the story unfolds, there is a light and color that is unveiled that heightens the emotion and life that Williams embraces. It is a stark contrast to the beginning of the film that shows how dark and drab Williams’ life has been. Those choices also reflect the style of Akira Kurosawa, a respect shown to the original film. It is a beautiful touch that enhances the story.
The story, while slow to unfold, is beautiful. The beginning of the film and the news that Williams receives move in a straightforward path. His exploration and conversations with Ms. Harris illustrate how Mr. Williams grows and changes. The biggest revelations and the most emotional moments unfold in the latter half of the film, as we learn how Mr. Williams’ last mission was accomplished, with dedication and passion, by the man who’d lived with so little passion for the rest of his life. What heightens those emotional moments is the stunning use of flashbacks to provide information about Mr. Williams’ last project. The writing of these moments is brilliant, illustrating how much the man had changed in his final days.
However, it is the performances that resonate and delve into the emotion of the film. Bill Nighy is beautifully understated in his performance, bringing subtle and poignant emotion to the character and rich depth to his scenes. It is, truthfully, one of Bill Nighy’s best performances. He has a brilliant dynamic with Aimee Lou Wood, who plays Margaret Harris. Her performance complements his, shining with light and joy. The other outstanding performance is that of Alex Sharp playing Peter Wakeling. His performance gives insight and charm to the film. Bill Nighy shines the most, however, in this understated movie.
However, I do find moments when the film is slow and harder to follow than I would prefer. The film also detours in directions as well. It shares details of Mr. Williams’ life before the film opens, which helps explore his character. We also get additional scenes with the Department of Public Works staff which adds insight but doesn’t always add enough information for the added time. Despite the film running long, the movie is beautiful and poignant, full of emotion and life despite the exploration of death.
If you love emotional films and Bill Nighy, you will want to watch this movie. Given that this is one of the most powerful performances Bill Nighy has given, I find that alone much to recommend it. Adding in emotional performances and a stunning exploration of life and death, this film should be appreciated and enjoyed for the stunning cinematography, the exquisite performances, and how full of life and passion it is, even in the poignancy of a man’s death.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 trains
Official Website: Living | Sony Pictures Classics
LIVING is the story of an ordinary man, reduced by years of oppressive office routine to a shadow existence, who at the eleventh hour makes a supreme effort to turn his dull life into something wonderful.
LIVING opens in theaters in Phoenix on January 6, 2023.
ONE-LINER: In 1950s London, a humorless civil servant decides to take time off work to experience life after receiving a grim diagnosis.