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Story of dying writer can’t live up to its title

John Hurt stars in watchable film that considers the circle of life, but isn't worth hijacking Dylan Thomas’s wonderful poem for

10 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Charles Dance and John Hurt in That Good Night

Directed by Eric Styles
Certificate 12a

CRUSTY old screen writer Ralph (John Hurt) is shambling about his Algarve villa, being mean and cantankerous with a skill a good British public school upbringing can provide, while working on scripts his adoring peers will speak slushily about at the annual Bafta awards.

But he is dying. A trip to a Portuguese hospital confirms that while he has recovered from a heart by-pass, he has motor neurone disease and not long left to live.

He decides he has affairs to put in order as he seeks to manage his demise. He doesn’t want his young wife Anna (Sofia Helin) to know, and also wants his estranged son Michael (Max Brown) to visit him so he can attempt to apologise for the years he has been absent.

Added to this, Ralph has decided he will go when he is ready, not when the illness dictates – so he contacts a shadowy euthanasia circle, called The Society, and asks for a doctor (Charles Dance) to pay him a visit.

His son’s arrival with new girlfriend Cassie (Erin Richards) throws in some extra sizzle, giving Ralph the chance to be utterly horrible and then also have a plot driver to consider the circle of life.

Based on the play by NJ Crisp, this has moments that are rather compelling, prompting the viewer to consider what they would do in such a situation and look with kindness at a man who has spent his life being rather unkind.

But it suffers from a surfeit of hamminess from just about all concerned. Ralph is at times just too much of a luvvie cliché. The incidental music is poorly scored and dubbed. The son of the home help who pops up talking to “Mr Ralph” is a sugary addition that lays on condescending schmaltz.

For all of Hurt’s watchability, his brilliance sadly shows up the shallowness of the other key players – though Dance as a floating, white suit-clad Dr Death is both menacing and comforting all at once, like the idea of leaping off a cliff into warm clear blue waters below.

This was Hurt’s last film, and somehow it feels fitting to have been focusing on the subject of terminal illness. He raises the standards enough to make it a watchable tale, though the hijacking of Dylan Thomas’s wonderful poem gives it literary pretensions the script does not otherwise deserve. By the time Hurt is reading the famous Dylan lines as a voiceover at the end, we’ve got the picture.


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