by Sarah Cook
Bill Nighy is one of the UK’s most versatile actors. Whether he plays an ageing rockstar in Love Actually, a disgruntled editor in Page 8, or a Scottish squid villain in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, to a Victorian Detective in The Limehouse Golem, Bill Nighy is brilliant in everything he does and beloved by many.
Now Nighy has produced his, arguably, best performance in the poetic film Living.
Based on the film Ikiru from Akira Kurosawa, which was inspired by a novella by Leo Tolstoy, Living revolves around Mr. Williams, a widowed civil servant who is well-respected but ultimately is absorbed by his paperwork. When he is told he has only a few months left to live, the diagnosis sparks something in him and powers him forward to live life a little bit more than he has been living.
From the first frame, Oliver Hermanu’s adaptation is a gorgeous film. Jamie D. Ramsay’s cinematography is astonishing. It feels as though you have stepped into a painting; a façade of an idyllic, blissful quiet life but a thousand yearnings layered underneath the colours. This lush way of framing the film adds a gorgeous wistfulness to the movie.
Nighy is triumphant here. Mr Williams barely utters anything above a low whisper and yet Nighy conveys such a rich tapestry of yearning. As Williams struggles to reconcile with who he wanted to be and who he became, he dissolves into this playful man, wishing for something more. Nighy plays this with a quiet astuteness. Though Alex Sharpe and Aimee-Lou Wood are tremendous in support, this is Nighy’s film through and through. A masterclass in how an understated performance can deliver powerful and devastating emotions.
In lesser hands, Mr Williams’ journey would be of grand discovery. Think of Walter Mitty leaping into helicopters in order to explore volcanoes or someone chasing after their loved one across the world to declare their undying love for them. Yet the beauty of this film’s stories is that Mr Williams rediscovers life again in the small moments around him. Whether that is building or having lunch at Fortnum’s with a young colleague, the idea of the beautiful every day is so delicately sung here.
This haunting and exquisite appreciation is weaved from Kazuo Ishiguro’s script and through Nighy’s stellar performance and produces one of the finest films of this year. As Bill Nighy’s Mr Williams skims the snow-covered streets aloft a swing in a seamless act of serenity, one can’t help but leave with a reflective tear in one eye.
An earnest, beautiful movie with a profoundly perfect performance from Nighy.
Living screened at the BFI London Film Festival
It is out in cinemas on 4th November