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MOVIES: Living - Review

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Living is something that I went in with low expectations – I missed it entirely at the London Film Festival and only caught up with it on its main theatrical release. A remake of Ikiru? Who needs that? Happy to report that everyone absolutely does need a remake of Ikiru when it’s as good as this, the rare exception to the rule of Kurosawa remakes – joining the likes of The Magnificent Seven in its superb execution.

Thanks to a deft hand by director Olivier Hermanus and a powerful script by Never Let Me Go author Kazuo Ishiguro, Living is given the smooth transition that it needs to benefit from such a jarring location switch, transporting the story to post war England in the 50s, and focusing around a county hall staffer who finds out that he is going to die. Rather than stick to his job he decides to skive off and quit – and what follows, is a journey into the unknown for someone who is only now starting to live.

Reflecting on what it means to be alive there are few more human stories than Living this year – understated, punctuated and devastatingly so by a stellar Bill Nighy performance – it really shines in capturing that humanity that so little films have, basking in the natural warm and good heartedness of it all. It lets people make assumptions and lets them make the wrong ones – the unlikely friendship between Nighy’s character and Aimee Lou Wood’s is played entirely believably, but to those looking in from the outside there are moments of awkwardness that create gossip - leading to the awkward dining table scene of the year; it's so classicly a British set-up and exchange. It’s not until the revelation comes that the meaning of this friendship hits so hard, and there’s a powerful scene that happens towards the final act that’s so much more because of that.

The character arc that Nighy’s character, who aspires to be a gentleman from a young age and cultivates a reputation - the kind of reputation where if you don't turn up to work on time you'll get checked to see where you are within two seconds – undergoes – is something that is profoundly professional in its attire – there’s an air of rich, British-upper lip formality to Living that kind of shines on the back of its attitudes of the era – that said, one of the main weaknesses the film has is that it is still perhaps a bit too close a time period to the original Ikiru to feel truly daring – given how much culture has changed; can you imagine what a 2022 Ikiru would look like? Truly bold and different with whole new commentaries to explored – but as a time-capsule into the past, Living manages to eschew what will no doubt be nostalgic memories of old London for those old enough to have lived them.

The chemistry between Wood and Nighy is on point and Nighy’s performance will move you to tears – it’s a very moving film, that much is certain – and Nighy gives absolutely everything his all. It’s devastatingly brutal in how he’s perceived by his colleagues – but the bond that forms between them over the course of the film is stunning. As someone who works in local government at a very low level I will add onto that point that maybe; government infrastructure hasn’t changed that much at all in how disorganised it all is? By-laws are still worded from the 90s. The constant back-and-forth of sending three women on a goose chase around county hall reminded me of when I went to my own county hall for training and they didn’t even give their own staff access to the building.

But regardless - through these gestures, the film helps usher in here’s a sense of community here – London feels smaller than ever – chance encounters in the heart of the capital are where the script is almost at its most forced, but Living’s good nature just about means it gets away with it all – well meaning, precise and excellent from start to finish. An unsung, unexpected sensation - a complete success.

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