Film Review: Living | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, September 25th, 2023  


Studio: Film4
Director: Oliver Hermanus

Jan 28, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Even in an industry full of remakes, sequels and now “requels,” an English remake of Akira Kurosawa’s philosophical Japanese masterpiece Ikiru is completely unexpected, to say the least. While the source material of Oliver Hermanus’ newest film, Living, may feel familiar, both the director and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro (the Nobel Prize-winning author of Never Let Me Go) consistently attempt to make the film stand out in new and innovative ways. While the result may not be entirely successful, the attempt is worthy in itself.

Set in 1950s England, the film follows Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), an elderly, prim and proper man who works in a prominent bureaucratic position at London’s County Hall. Mr. Williams’ job consists of little more than sorting through file after file, approving Public Works projects or sending people’s petitions and requests from one department to another in a cyclical bureaucratic nightmare. Mr. Williams and his coworkers are estranged, and his relationship with his son and daughter-in-law is extremely distant.

Mr. Williams’ unfulfilling quotidian routine quickly changes, though, when he finds out that he only has six months left to live. Unsure of what to do, Mr. Williams begins to experience the quirks and qualities of life that his routine has robbed him of for decades. Along the way, he meets a variety of characters and becomes closer with Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood), a coworker of his that he never previously paid attention to.

Albeit expectedly, Living rarely sticks out, or feels different, from its source material. The general structure of the film is the same, with two very distinct halves that focus on different aspects of Mr. Williams’ life and legacy. The film would work better if it took more risks, twisting certain narrative beats or adding new characters to communicate its themes in an imaginative and fresh way. Even so, it is understandable why Hermanus and Ishiguro largely keep the story the same: the formula works. Mr. Williams’ story is timeless and can be applied to everyone’s lives, no matter what they do or where they come from. The film’s messages, such as the idea of always taking advantage of what life has to offer and living each day like there won’t be another, are eternal. The film’s story is consistently inspiring, beckoning viewers to question what in their lives makes them happy and to consider if they’re truly making the most out of their all-too-short time on this planet.

Moreover, Living’s decision to keep the film’s narrative straight-forward and easily comprehensible is a successful one. Since the story’s scope is solely confined to the experiences of Mr. Williams and the select few around him, watching the film is an extremely undemanding task. As a result, it’s easier to look for and understand the film’s meaning, making it play out as a somewhat familiar, yet still fulfilling, experience.

The entire premise and success of Living hinges on Nighy’s performance. The veteran actor does not disappoint, perfectly portraying a complex character that starts out as restrained but slowly opens up, and becomes more lovable, as the plot inches forward. Wood is fantastic as well, serving as the perfect contrast to Nighy’s performance. Their chemistry is what supports the entire film, making their characters’ intricate interactions always feel believable and warranted. (

Author rating: 6.5/10

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