Film Review: Living – 7.5/10

‘I don’t have time to get angry...’

Remaking a film by one of the most celebrated directors of all time is a bold move fraught with the potential for humiliation. See Gus Van Sant’s utterly pointless remake of Psycho for proof. With Living, South African director Oliver Hermanus has taken on Akira Kurosawa’s classic fable Ikiru, and with the help of a star turn from Bill Nighy, has created something worthwhile…

Mr Williams (Nighy) is a dour bureaucrat who has devoted his life to being a gentleman, therefore earning the nickname Mr Zombie from his colleagues. When he receives a pessimistic prognosis from his doctor, Williams vows to live his life to the full. To do this, he enlists the help of his former colleague Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood), a vibrant and kind young woman, as well as from Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp), a new employee in the office at which Williams works.

Anyone familiar with Ikiru will already know the plot beats here. Williams is inspired by those around him to make the most of the short time he has left. This means trips to the cinema, singing an old Scottish song down the pub and devoting the rest of his time to having a park built in the local area. Nighy was nominated for an Oscar for his performance here, eventually losing out to Brendan Fraser and The Whale, but Nighy can console himself with the fact that this is surely a career-best performance (although shout out to Shaun of the Dead) from one of Britain’s most beloved actors. Having entered national treasure status, it is heartening to see Nighy recognised by the Academy at such a late stage in his acting career.

Elsewhere, celebrated writer Kazuo Ishiguro does a great job in updating Kurosawa’s film for a modern-day audience but there is a nagging feeling that Hermanus’ film never quite lives up to the original. Having said that, it is churlish not to embrace Living and if it turns a new generation on to the films of Kurosawa then that should be applauded.

Putting aside the comparisons with the source material for a moment, there is no denying that taken on its merits this is a powerful and affecting film with a terrific lead performance and a talented supporting cast. It serves as a life-affirming antidote to the more sentimental films out there dealing with mortality. A perfectly enjoyable experience.