Film Review: Living (2022)

Bill Nighy really is superb in the deeply melancholic Living

“Maybe he’s just decided he’s had enough”

Living may be an adaptation of the 1952 Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru but both take their inspiration from Tolstoy’s 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which makes a lot of sense once you’ve seen it (I’ll hold my hands up now and say I ain’t seen Ikiru…). It’s a film that kinda flew under the radar a bit, even though its star Bill Nighy garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and that’s a real shame.

For Kazuo Oshiguro’s adaptation, directed here by Oliver Hermanus, is imbued with a gorgeous, gentle melancholy that hits just right. Set in 1953 London, Nighy plays Rodney Williams, the greyest of grey bureaucrat in the Public Works department of the London County Council, taking perverse pleasure in tying up applications in their labyrinthine system. A terminal diagnosis of stomach cancer upends his perspective entirely though, strangely enough giving him a new lease of life on what is left.

Nighy is perfect casting and whilst a post-war suit might seem like the kind of role he’s portrayed a thousand times before, the deep sadness that haunts him here finds him playing on an entirely different register. As his buttoned-up sternness starts to melt and his behaviour shifting in ways he’d never previously contemplated, a strange kind of wisdom comes to the fore, a centring of the emotional self completely new to him and a belated sharing of goodness to some of those around him.

From former colleague Miss Harris (a lovely Aimee Lou Wood) which whom he strikes up a potentially scandalous friendship to the redoubtable Mrs Smith (the ever-excellent Lia Williams), the leader of a group of women whose application to turn a bombsite into a playground has long been ignored, his impact belatedly ripples out in a warm glow of humanity. As we’re left wondering, what a shame it took impending death to remind him (and us) of life’s possibilities.

1 thought on “Film Review: Living (2022)

  1. My favourite bit of the film (after the always splendid BN) is after a moment of sentimentality and reflection, bureaucrats will return to do what they know best – mindless bureaucracy.

    Without “jobsworth” and form filling, what is there? Humans will not be replaced by robots. Robots will fight it out with bureaucrats and lose!

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