“I don’t want anyone to think that is what John was like, he wasn’t. He’s just that good an actor,” explained Sir John Hurt’s widow Anwen before a special screening of his final movie That Good Night. Hurt had been a patron of the Quad and of the Derby Film Festival that is held there, so this had an emotional resonance.
This resonance is felt through the exceptional last turn from one of Britain’s greatest ever actors, his widow was not speaking in hyperbole.
That Good Night, drawing its title, and inspiration from the Dylan Thomas poem exploring the themes of not accepting death quietly, is a slow-burning lament on life and death that is equally heart-warming and heart-breaking.
Hurt plays Ralph, a formerly successful screenwriter now living in resident in Portugal. He is cantankerous, opinionated and difficult to be around. He is also terminally ill and facing what he calls “the ultimate deadline”. His two final goals are not to be burden to his wife Anna (wonderfully depicted by Sofia Helin) and mend his relationship with his son (Max Brown).
Charles Dance puts in a solid performance as an enigmatic visitor who could be the grim reaper himself. This thread of visits throughout the movie provide context, and a character (manifestation?) for Ralph to voice and discuss his thoughts and fears. It is an interesting device, is this character real or the embodiment of Ralph’s inner turmoil.
As a truly character-based narrative, That Good Night, relies on the acting abilities of the cast to carry the weight of the subject matter and inject humanity and humour into the most depressing of subjects. Hurt is masterful without a doubt, but his supporting cast also make him shine with their excellent performances, which don’t detract from Ralph as the central protagonist but instead make him more rounded.
Hurt is so believable as the grumpy, self-assured old writer that Anwen Hurt’s statement is necessary, as it would be easy to believe that Hurt was simply playing himself.
Visually, it is a hazy, soft-focus delight with just a hint of retirement, holiday-home brochure and the relentless sentimental score can be a little over-bearing but, all in all, it creates a tranquil and wonderfully paced visual experience that allows the characters and stunning surrounds breath. This is not a movie that partakes in overloading the senses, it is a contemplative piece that allows proper exploration of the subject matter.
Making such an engaging and enjoyable piece on the subjects of death and loss is no mean feat but That Good Night achieves it wonderfully and it is the perfect last performance from one of our best actors.
Knowing that Hurt was also soon to depart this Earth makes it all-the-more poignant, and it is almost impossible not to shed a tear.
That Good Night is a wonderful, thought-provoking piece that never descends into sensationalism. It is a very real look at questions we all face and is well worth exploring.
That Good Night was previewed as part of Derby Film Festival.