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Film review: That Good Night

Film & TV

John Hurt plays a terminally ill screenwriter living in a sumptuous Portuguese villa and estranged from his son in this British Film Festival movie, one of the veteran actor’s last roles before he died earlier this year following a long battle with cancer.

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The film – which has been adapted from a stage play by NJ Crisp and takes its title from Dylan Thomas’s poem Do not go gentle into that good night – begins gently with beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding countryside as the score introduces the idea of Ralph facing his end.

As a screenwriter, he is used to meeting deadlines, and he is about to meet his ultimate deadline.

Hurt gives an endearing and moving performance, perhaps all the more believable because he knew he was terminally ill himself while making the film.

When Ralph insists on a sudden family meeting, his son Michael (Max Brown), unexpectedly brings his fiancee, Cassie (Erin Richards). Ralph is his usual cantankerous and difficult self, and he makes little attempt to be polite when he first meets Cassie.

Very quickly, father and son revisit old arguments and family tensions as Ralph becomes more insulting. Gradually, however, he finds a way to talk about the inevitability of death and his concern for the wellbeing of his beautiful wife, Anna (Sofia Helin), which raises another old wound as he never wanted to have children.

Although Ralph has had enough of life, he doesn’t want to face his demise or put Anna through the trauma his slow, painful death. Then Charles Dance mysteriously appears as a white-suited “society” man who asks for a consultation fee and discusses a hypothetical scenario for a screenplay that deals with a dying man wanting to be euthanased.

In the exchange, Ralph meets his match. However, when he is given some good news by Anna he undergoes a rapid change of personality which, to this reviewer, lacks credibility.

The other problem with That Good Night is that issues which arose in the first half of the film are not adequately dealt with. The cast members all give strong performances, but the script sees a lifetime of disappointment  swept away in one conversation and long-held resentments too conveniently brushed aside.

That Good Night is screening at the Cunard British Film Festival at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas on October 28, November 1 and November 5. The festival continues until November 15.


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