‘The Phantom of the Open’ Review: ‘The World’s Worst Golfer’ Wins Laughs


Inspired by Maurice Flitcroft’s stunningly bad results at the 1976 British Open, this comedy plays with a genre in which underdogs so often triumph.

The British comedy “The Phantom of the Open” — about a working man’s dreams of golf glory — features a few dreamlike sequences that suggest the director, Craig Roberts, is a fan of the 1946 fantasy romance, “Stairway to Heaven,” especially when a tiny golfer circles a golf ball the size of the moon.

Inspired by Maurice Flitcroft’s attempts to qualify for the British Open in 1976, this comedy is also the sort of lighthearted movie the director Frank Capra would have liked to have taken a swing at.

The actor Mark Rylance brings a mix of sorrow and optimism to his portrayal of Flitcroft, the shipyard crane operator who, encouraged by his wife, Jean (Sally Hawkins), to finally follow his dreams, enters the British Open. The rub: Neither of them knows anything about golf.

A different actor than Rylance might have revealed the slight darker, impostor wrinkles of the tale. Instead, his character, an unflummoxed optimist, shares some of the same cheery qualities as Ted Lasso.

“Phantom” opens with Maurice nervously awaiting a television interview years after his first try at the Open. The scene plays with a genre in which underdogs so often triumph. Maurice, it turns out, is stunningly bad. Simon Farnaby based the screenplay on his and the sports journalist Scott Murray’s biography, “The Phantom of the Open: Maurice Flitcroft, The World’s Worst Golfer.”

Maurice’s personal mantra is “practice is the road to perfection.” Even so, it may not get him there. His persistence will, however, aggravate golfing elites and mortify his stepson Michael (Jake Davies), who has been promoted by the shipyard higher-ups. The twins Christian and Jonah Lees bring a silly buoyancy to this already offbeat tale as Maurice and Jean’s championship, disco-dancing sons. (That, too, is based on fact.)