Dylan Thomas wrote his most famous poem in 1947. First published in 1951, it is presumed that ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ is written about his father – urging him to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ In 1996 the poem inspired the play incarnation of ‘That Good Night’ and now, in 2018, we have the film version. It’s the story of Ralph (John Hurt), a terminally ill writer, trying to rectify for his past actions. He knows he has very little time left but still wishes to for two things; to reconcile with his long-estranged son Michael (Max Brown) and to ensure that his much younger second wife (Sofia Helin) will not be left alone. Already in pain, any knowing it will only worsen, he calls upon ‘The Society’ to help him bring a his life to a quick and painless end. They send The Visitor (Charles Dance), a man who seems determined not to provide Ralph with an easy exit.
The end result of the film ends up being rather small screen fare; it’s gentle, quiet and dialogue driven. Much like last year’s Fences (starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis) it’s a film based on a play that doesn’t really shed its play-skin. It breathes and moves more like a play than a film, never fully utilising the cinematic elements aside from Dance’s introduction into the film using high saturated, soft focus lighting.
That being said, there are a few good enough reasons to give it a watch. It’s heartfelt, senstivally told and stays more realistic than melodramatic. The plot has enough intriguing elements, a blend of comedy, drama and philosophy that results in something of a tragic familial love story. The mystery surrounding the nature of Dance’s character is interesting and engaging,
But the real reason for watching is the sad fact that it is John Hurt’s last leading role. Filmed around the time he first announced his terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis there’s a real poignancy to his character’s musings about horizons and how they recede with time. Dialogue such as ‘I seem to be very aware of my own mortality’ lingers; this truly feels like his swan song.
Ralph is a bristly character – it’s in how he moves and speaks to every single character. After spending most of his life unable to maintain relationships, particularly with the son he claimed he didn’t want, he’s now desperate to fix things but fearful he doesn’t have the time to do so. Quietly and subtly it plays on an innate and universal fear we all have; our family is the truest legacy we leave behind – what if we leave with so much left unsaid?
Hurt’s scenes with Dance are the highlights of the film, a dulcet tone-off between two stately British actors. Their dialogue is multi-layered, somehow both conversational yet deeply reflective about the nature of mortality. The rest of the film is slightly less memorable, definitely playing for the ‘grey pound’ market. The supporting cast are fine enough and the less said about the usually fantastic Noah Jupe (supporting actor in last year’s ‘Wonder’ and break-out in this year’s ‘A Quiet Place’) and his ‘Portuguese’ accent the better…
But that’s not the reason to watch the film. The reason to watch it is to say goodbye to a greatly beloved and much adored screen icon as he gently rages against the dying of the light.
Dir: Eric Styles
Scr: N.J. Crisp (based on the play), Charles Savage (screenplay)
Cast: John Hurt, Sofia Helin, Max Brown, Erin Richards, Charles Dance.
Prd: Jo Gilbert, Alan Latham, Charles Savage, Marc Sinden.
DOP: Richard Stoddard
Music: Guy Farley
Run time: 92 mnutes
That Good Night is in UK cinemas from Friday 11th May.