The biggest mistake they made at the Oscars this year was not thinking that Anthony Hopkins was going to win Best Actor. It was a tricky ceremony to get right with it coming at the end of the year that it did, but with a smaller number of guests gathered, tested and spaced but with no masks, they found a less indulgent tone that largely worked. In a move that is widely suspected to be because they thought the recently passed Chadwick Boseman would win, the Best Actor Oscar was announced last though. Presumably they thought honouring Boseman would be a fitting end to proceedings. As it was though the award went to Hopkins and as he wasn’t there to accept it the evening ended on a flat and anticlimactic note. Yep, the biggest mistake they made at the Oscars this year was not thinking Anthony Hopkins was going to win Best Actor and having now seen The Father I can tell you it was a BIG mistake.
I know these things aren’t always given out just based on the performance but Hopkins is astonishing in this role. They had to have seen it coming. He’d also snatched the BAFTA from Boseman the week before. Chadwick Boseman is excellent in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and at the time the gongs were given out I was disappointed but I can see now that it almost couldn’t have gone any other way.
This is Hopkins second Academy Award of course, the first being for The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. His performance as Hannibal Lector was full of quirk and affectation though (as the character and the story demanded – apparently the voice was based on Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn) while here his naturalism is incredible. I wanted to see him win for The Remains of the Day as well but those types of understated parts aren’t always recognised (he did win the BAFTA for this, he now has three of those). Here though realism has been properly celebrated. Hopkins gratefully received the accolade for The Father but stated that as an eighty three year old man himself, he found playing an eighty three year old man quite straight forward. The real skill, he said, was in the writing. I mean sure the writing is great (also winning an Oscar) but he’s being modest.
The Father tells the relatively simple tale of a man losing himself to dementia and speaking with experience of seeing this happen I can see that he has captured this magnificently. The bewilderment, sadness, frustration and fear he shows is just spot on, and utterly heartbreaking. I say the story is simple but it is actually told with superb sophistication. The narrative is not linear but rather is brilliantly broken, confused and uncertain, perfectly capturing the elements of this experienced by its protagonist. This is a form of ageing presented as a psychological horror film and as such it really brings home the terror of being in this situation. There has long been debate about whether The Silence of the Lambs is a horror film but it isn’t as much as this one is. This is truly the stuff of nightmares, made worse of course because it is also many peoples’ reality.
I also said that this is the story of a man but this isn’t quite true either. Olivia Colman features heavily as Anthony’s daughter (the actor shares his name with the character) and her performance, which is also amazing, actually serves as a gateway into the film. It is as easy and almost as frightening to imagine yourself in her situation and it is this that many of the audience will relate to. For all of this The Father can be a hard film to watch (although not as tough as you might think – I even chuckled at a couple of moments) but ultimately I think it is a beautiful tribute to all those who have lived through similar circumstances, directly or peripherally.
There is much to revel in here. The script, as Hopkins has humbly but accurately suggested is very sharp and the set design and direction really clever. I’m not sure the film escapes its theatrical origins, you can totally see how it would play on stage, but it is smart while being totally, deliberately and nimbly carried by that central performance. Hopkins was on screen for sixteen minutes the last time he won an Oscar (which is impressive for a different reason) but here he commands the full hour thirty seven and your concentration will not wain for a second. The Oscars organisers may have lost sight of his skill but the voters didn’t and neither will you. With bittersweet irony, I have to say that his performance is unforgettable.