The film THE FATHER is drawn from the stage play of the same name, which was written by Florian Zeller. Alongside Oscar®-winners Anthony Hopkins (Anthony) and Olivia Colman (Anne), rounding out the film’s cast are Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots (Laura), Rufus Sewell (Paul) and Olivia Williams.
In THE FATHER, Anthony is 81 years old. He lives alone in his London apartment and refuses all of the nurses that his daughter, Anne, tries to impose upon him. Yet such a necessity is becoming more and more pressing for her, as she can’t see him every day anymore: she has taken the decision to move to Paris to live with a man she has just met…
But if such is the case, then who is this stranger who suddenly bursts into Anthony’s living room, claiming to be married to Anne for over ten years? And why is he claiming with such conviction that they are at the supposed married couple’s home, and not his? Is Anthony losing his mind? Yet he recognizes the place: it is indeed his apartment, and only just the night before was Anne reminding him of her divorce… And didn’t she decide to go and live in Paris? Then why is she now insisting that this was never the case? There seems to be something going around, as if the world, for a moment, has ceased to be logical. Unless his daughter, and her new companion, are the ones trying to make him appear as crazy? Is their objective in fact to rob him of his apartment? Do they want to get rid of him? And where is Lucy, his other daughter?
Astray in a labyrinth of answerless questions, Anthony desperately attempts to understand what is going on around him. THE FATHER is about the painful trajectory of a man whose reality crumbles little by little before our eyes.
Yet it is also the story of Anne, his daughter, who faces an equally painful dilemma: what must she do with her father? Should she take him with her, even if that means compromising her life with Paul? Does she have the right to live her own life? What happens when one must become parent of one’s own parents?
It is an inescapable fact of life that for every relationship between a parent and a child, there is a moment in time where the child becomes a carer, and the parent a dependent.
This is at the core of THE FATHER. It is a beautifully wrought family drama that brings together Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in a heart-rending account of what happens when a relationship which has coloured our every waking moment for decades suddenly and irrevocably changes.
Making his debut as film director is the award-winning French playwright, Florian Zeller, who shares the writing duties with his long-time collaborator and translator Christopher Hampton. Florian steers a dazzling cast headed by Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman as an elderly father and his middle-aged daughter struggling to adapt to changed circumstances.
Florian Zeller, who has moved into cinema from the world of theatre, is accustomed to building a relationship with the audience which he describes in French as “ludique” – best understood as “playful”. Far from film’s common role as a naturalistic medium, audiences will discover that what we see on the screen does not necessarily give us a true version of the world.
In THE FATHER we experience the world through the prism of the character Anthony’s confusion, as his dementia set in motion a gradual decline affecting every part of his reality. But this is not just a film about dementia, and he is more than an unreliable narrator. He is at the centre of a struggle which gives THE FATHER elements of both thriller and horror – with
Anthony’s mind as the unremitting nemesis. In the words of the director, the audience should feel as if they are “groping their way through a labyrinth.”
Despite such apparently dark subject matter, THE FATHER is built on a foundation of human empathy, with moments of laughter and even a sense of joy. It celebrates the unbreakable bond between parent and child as they are locked together on a journey into the unknown.
Hopkins and Zeller struck an immediate rapport. “I knew Christopher Hampton from having worked with him several times in the past. I knew that it was going to be a relatively small cast and crew. Everything was so compact: it felt almost as if we were working in a cottage industry. I was delighted to hear from Florian that the screenplay of THE FATHER had been written with me in mind. If that is the case, I feel very flattered and honoured.”
“Working on this film,” he continues, “has concentrated my mind on my own mortality. In a way, I half-feel that I might avoid contracting dementia by making it! We had a lot of fun on set trying to memorize Florian’s conversational style of dialogue. In some ways, by the time the cameras were on me, no acting was required!”
“I’m eighty-two now and I’ve managed to survive past the age my father was when he died. I think I understood Anthony from the beginning – in a way it was like playing my father.” When questioned on his own age and possible retirement, Hopkins response is typically strong: “I’d die if I ever gave up the business. I must be an old warrior! A survivor!”
Working closely with Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman observes, “He is such a joyful man. He’ll be chatting and chatting but the minute they call action, he is ready to work. I agree with him when he says that we are so lucky to be working on THE FATHER. It’s been a proper treat.”