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That Good Night — perfect poignancy from John Hurt

That Good Night — perfect poignancy from John Hurt

May 13
11:06 2018

John Hurt in ‘That Good Night’

John Hurt plays his last leading screen role in That Good Night. It’s a bit of a stiff, this ex-stage play transposed to a sunny villa somewhere in art movie land. But Sir John isn’t: he’s the life of the party and definitely its soul. His rasping, spectacled, white-frizzed writer — “a tattered coat upon a stick”, to echo his own Yeats quote — tries to confront death, both abstract and personified. One: he’s fatally ill. Two: he’s visited by a white-suited Charles Dance, bringing euthanasia options from a mystery organisation called “The Society”.

Hurt is also sorting moral-psychological accounts with a son (Max Brown) and younger wife (Sofia Helin). It’s a weighty agenda and we wish director Eric Styles and scenarist Charles Savage (adapting N.J. Crisp’s original) would lighten it. Does a dying man need all these chores? Does a movie?

Hurt plays it all, though, as if playing. He voices the dialogue in his best singsong. He gives sententious lines a spoofy lilt and funny ones a delicate, perfect poignancy. In his battered straw hat, with straggled goatee and scrawny neck, he could be a post-mod Don Quixote done up for a mad Sunday painter. Now there’s a role he should have played. He almost did once, of course: in the first, uncompleted shoot of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, now reaching audiences with a different cast after a chequered history and a hand-of-fate striking — most lately as I speak — the director himself.


The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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