Time: 102 Minutes
Age Rating: PG – Coarse language & sexualised imagery
Bill Nighy as Mr. Rodney Williams
Aimee Lou Wood as Miss Margaret Harris
Alex Sharp as Mr. Peter Wakeling
Tom Burke as Mr. Sutherland
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Overwhelmed at work and lonely at home, a civil servant’s life takes a heartbreaking turn when a medical diagnosis tells him his time is short. Influenced by a local decadent and a vibrant woman, he continues to search for meaning until a simple revelation gives him a purpose to create a legacy for the next generation.
Living was one of the remaining movies I was waiting to watch. The main reason was that in a lot of this year’s awards circuits, Bill Nighy’s performance in this movie was frequently nominated for Best Actor. I was then intrigued when I learned that this was a British remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru. Eventually it did get a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, along with Adapted Screenplay, and so I watched it first chance I could. Living ended up being much better than I thought it would be.
I know that many who have watched Ikiru are probably concerned with the fact that there’s a remake of it at all. But for what it’s worth, Living adapts the story to Britain quite well. You can see similarities between the two movies, the story beats are the same and even some of the imagery of the original movie is recreated here (including the iconic image of the lead character on a swing). At the same time, they feel thoughtfully and deliberately placed in. It doesn’t feel derivative, there is some clear passion for this story. I was invested enough in the movie that I wasn’t thinking about the similarities, and it manages to be its own thing. It probably helps that its central message is universal. Both films are about mortality and living life to the fullest, even in the face of inevitable death and the relatable fear of not having much time left. So while much of the story is bittersweet, the end message is optimistic. It is a very heartfelt, sensitive, and gentle story, and a politely restrained character study. There was clearly a lot of care taken in crafting the film; it takes its time and is a slow burn, but I was invested throughout. Perhaps the third act did have a bit too much of characters flat out stating the themes, but that’s what Ikiru did too. The movie is relatively short at an hour and 40 minutes, but I think it could’ve afforded to be a little longer. There are some aspects in the second half that I wish had more fleshing out.
Bill Nighy is in the lead role and while I haven’t seen a ton of his work, he gives possibly his best performance here. He’s so nuanced and subtle with so many powerfully quiet moments, and he fits the Takashi Shimura role in the original so well. His change over the course of the movie is so genuine and convincing. So much of the film relies on Nighy, and he had me so emotionally invested. The rest of the cast do some great work too, with Aimee Lou Wood and Tom Burke especially leaving strong impressions.
Oliver Hermanus’s direction is quite good. The technical elements aren’t anything too special but aren’t a slouch either. Right from the beginning, it seems like efforts were taken to make it look like the movie came from the 1950s, but isn’t so overt that it becomes overbearing or feels like its trying too hard. The cinematography is vivid and captures the time period and setting excellently. One of the stand out aspects of the movie is the elegant piano centric score from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch. It’s incredible and pleasantly melodic music which carries so much emotion, accompanying the rest of the movie excellently.
Living is an understated, melancholic and existential drama with fantastic performances, especially from a phenomenal Bill Nighy. Whether you’ve watched Ikiru before or not, I highly recommend checking it out.