Speaking earlier this spring, British producer David Parfitt reflected on the challenges of financing Florian Zeller’s The Father. The film may now have gone on to win Oscars, but when potential backers were first approached, most were immensely sceptical. This was a story about a querulous old man with dementia who has a fraught relationship with his relatives and carers. There was considerable doubt that anybody would actually want to go and see it.
“If you go out pitching a film about dementia, it doesn’t go down that well. It’s tough to get these things going,” Parfitt acknowledged. “Even with Tony Hopkins and Olivia Colman attached, it was still tough.” In order to secure a green light, salaries had to be deferred and corners cut.
The Father premiered at Sundance in January 2020. Then came the Covid crisis and an agonisingly long wait. Eighteen months later, it is finally arriving in British cinemas this week. Critics have rhapsodised about Anthony Hopkins’s barnstorming, Academy Award-winning performance, likening it to his turns as Shakespeare’s King Lear on stage and on screen. The British have also basked in the afterglow of its Oscars success. Although writer-director Zeller is French, and The Father originated as a French play, Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay, the main actors were English or Welsh, and the project is now being hailed as a triumph for UK cinema.