DRAMA; 1hr 42min
STARRING: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Tom Burke
Out of time: Nighy
No one does reticence (“reserve, introversion, restraint…”) like a stiff-necked Brit in a class system all their own. Enter Bill Nighy doing British reticence of the genteel 1950s variety in a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro — who himself gift-wrapped the unspoken in delicate shades of blue in his 1989 novel, The Remains of the Day.
Nighy’s Rodney Williams is a widower and senior pen-pusher in the London County Council’s public works department. He is a Shakespearean walking shadow, so battened down that when handed a terminal cancer diagnosis by his doctor he resolves to end his life with a sleeping draught rather than drag out its final six, dreary months. Taking himself to the seaside to do the deed, he encounters in a café a simpatico stranger (Burke as Mr Sutherland) who treats Rodney to a game-changing night on the town and to whom he can speak more freely than he ever has to his own stuffed-shirt son, Michael (Barney Fishwick).
Back in London but still cavalierly absent from his unbearable office, Rodney further stretches his wings by treating himself and a pretty co-worker he runs into in the street (Wood as Miss Margaret Harris) to a luxe lunch at Fortnum’s, where she pertly informs him that his fellow suits’ nickname for him is Mr Zombie. “Dead but not dead,” she helpfully clarifies. Quite so. But nor is Mr Zombie going down without leaving his mark.
Directed by Oliver Hermanus (Beauty), this modest charmer feels traditionalist to its starchy core but is actually a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru (“To Live”). Its accumulation of small gestures, cushioned by retro flourishes and a swoony instrumental soundtrack, mould themselves to Rodney’s diffidence like a pristine pinstripe suit. But it is the heart beating beneath it, even in a culturally sanctioned cage, that will prove to be a galvanising compass, leading Rodney at last to his hard-won happy place.