Bill Nighy is Mr Williams, a stuffy old civil servant working for the Public Works department in the 1950’s London. He learns that his health is failing and that he is dying of cancer. The news causes him to reflect on his life and his many regrets. He somehow motivates himself to take action before it is too late. Although the theme is not exactly happy or upbeat, the script by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of Remains of the Day) is simply captivating and a delight to watch. Coupled with a stellar performance by Bill Nighy and a stylish directorial style by South African Oliver Hermanus that pays homage to classic 1950s films, Living is nothing short of spectacular. The homage to the old style movies is apparent right from the film’s opening credits while featuring rare glimpses of what London looked like then. Even the film’s squarish format of 4:3 is a throwback to the common format used at that time.
There is a lot to appreciate in Living that makes its viewing such an exceptional experience. Apart from the artistic and creative style that gave the film its very own unique shape and mold, there is the impeccable script that makes every scene such a delight to watch and listen to. The 1950’s era that the story is based on is richly reproduced through the sets, costumes, and mannerism and culture of the time. They seem to alien when compared to the current. One thing I noticed was how beautiful the movie looked at every scene. Director Oliver Hermanus makes each scene come alive by using natural lighting to illuminate the set and characters. The performances from the cast were great and I am happy to note that Bill Nighy was duly recognized for his work here with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. All these so cleverly wrapped up by a heartwarming story that promotes positive values while supporting the theme “life through death”.
It is interesting to note that this is actually a remake an Akira Kurosawa classic IKIRU (1952). Screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro is himself an accomplished novelist and screenwriter who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017! It is little wonder how such a modest looking little movie can end up coming across feeling so awesome and unforgettable.