Esteemed British actor John Hurt sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 77, with one of his final roles being in Eric Styles’ That Good Night, which receives its World Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this week.
That Good Night is an adaptation of a successful stage play, with Hurt taking on the lead role as a writer coming to terms with his own morality, set against the backdrop of the sun-drenched Algarve. Ralph (Hurt) has had a life of acclaim thanks to writing, but is now adjusting to the fact that he’s nearer the end of his life. When a routine check up reveals his illness has turned terminal, Ralph vows to set things straight, hoping to leave his ever patient wife Anna (Sofia Helin) without causing her too much unnecessary pain.
His first thought is to call estranged son Michael (Max Brown), who arrives shortly after with new girlfriend Cassie (Erin Andrews) in tow, whom Ralph immediately takes a dislike to, adding further steam to his relationship with Michael and vexing Anna. But as Ralph further contemplates his time left, he’s visited by a mysterious man (Charles Dance), who convinces him to take a less hardened approach to saying his goodbyes. The film Styles has put together, with a script from Charles Savage, is a well-directed and well-performed domestic drama, with the pastel colours and beautiful setting adding a warmth to a film about death and seeking penance.
There’s not much fresh on offer, and the script never settles on any particular situation, whether it be an argument or inspection of a back story, any longer to make any real emotional impact on the audience. It’s irritating in the sense that most of the film is built around Ralph wanting to make amends with his son, which he does do to a sense, but it takes the adding of an extra narrative element to make this happen, with all the past merely swept away. Hurt delivers a suitably subtle performance, which does help in luring the audience in, and he shares decent and believable chemistry with Anna, their squabbles unlike typical married couples in that Ralph is never truly able to open up enough to accept his own mistakes, instead laying the blame on others and lashing out when things turn sour.
The film never feels truly worthy of Hurt’s talents and doesn’t utilise his abilities as well as it could have done. It must be said, too, that the score is cloying in its repetitiveness, as if constantly trying to reassure us that the film is never going to get too dark so not to worry. But that’s not to say That Good Night is bad. It’s certainly beautiful to look at, the mostly one location clearly stemming from the stage show, which this feels like it works better as. And the final moments are touching in how much they allow the audience – alongside the characters – to mourn for someone so dear to them. It’s just a shame that there’s not more to care about prior to this point.