Last January, we bid farewell to the great Sir John Hurt. An institution of British acting, the star appeared in more than 100 films, gaining a reputation as one of the greatest actors who ever lived. His final leading role, in That Good Night, is the embodiment of a legendary career.
Hurt plays Ralph, a celebrated writer in his 70s living in luxury with his wife, Anna (Sofia Helin). Realising there is more time behind him than ahead, he seeks to reconnect with his son, Michael (Max Brown), with whom he has a fractious relationship. However, the surprise arrival of Michael’s girlfriend, Cassie (Erin Richards), combined with Ralph’s abrasive nature, makes reconciliation difficult.
Based on the play of the same name by NJ Crisp, the script takes full advantage of the talented ensemble cast. Brown gives a wonderfully torn performance as a son struggling in the shadow of his father’s greatness. Meanwhile, Richards matches Hurt blow-for-blow as a newcomer unimpressed with Ralph’s forthrightness, leading to some of the film’s most gripping moments. The real pleasure, however, are the scenes shared between Hurt and fellow acting legend Charles Dance, who plays a visitor who speaks only to Ralph. The philosophical exchanges are a joy to watch, as each actor brings the best out of the other.
Framing all of this drama is the idyllic Portuguese setting, with Ralph’s plush surroundings becoming part of his character. The sun-drenched paradise is a reminder of the success he has had professionally, and is the perfect venue to address the personal issues he has left unattended.
More than anything, this story of family rifts is an opportunity to watch Hurt one last time, ending his career as strongly as he started. Whereas some actors’ talents wane with age, the three-time BAFTA winner is as sharp as he ever was. His portrayal of Ralph is not simply as a mean old man, but someone realising the damage they have done over a lifetime of self-regard. As well as a caustic wit that leads to some delightfully awkward scenarios, his final on-screen turn becomes a meditation on assessing one’s impact on the world. It’s a fitting finale for a career that encompasses The Elephant Man, Midnight Express and the Harry Potter films.
That Good Night is an absorbing British drama that explores issues that will resonate with everyone who sees it. Featuring performances that will inspire conversations long after the credits have rolled, it is a fitting tribute to one of our most distinctive talents.