Struggling to navigate this confusing mix of past and present is a brilliant Hopkins, giving a performance that is both charismatic and fierce, sometimes in the same breath. There is here a breathtaking specificity in his technique because he is called to transmit a wide range of feelings and emotions, but also a softness and an openness that we have rarely seen from him. It is one of the best works of Hopkins’ long and successful career.
And like her daughter, Anne, Olivia Colman is still her equal. She too has to ride this roller coaster and struggle to put a stiff, British upper lip in a situation that regularly crumbles. She’ll handle a tearful-eyed smile or flinch slightly while maintaining her patience when her father says something rude and insulting. As our guide – as much as Zeller will allow us – Colman is great, as always.
But mostly, we see the world through Anthony’s eyes, and at first it seems like a pretty peaceful place. When we first spy on him, he listens to the opera on a pleasant afternoon in his spacious, tastefully furnished London apartment. But soon Anne stops to visit him and informs him that she has met someone and is moving to Paris to be with him. His demeanor instantly changes and, feeling hurt, he shouts, “You?” he asks incredulously. “You mean, a man? Later, as the long-term reality of this news strikes him, he reveals a deeper layer of pain: “So if I understand correctly, you’re leaving me, right? You abandon me. His face falls a bit but he still tries to exert a measure of control and bravado.
Some version of this kind of conversation happens over and over again – where he placed his beloved watch, for example, or the cruel treatment he inflicted on his former home caregiver. And just when we think about getting into the beat of “The Father”, it changes the tempo and the players. Maybe it’s not Anthony’s apartment – maybe it’s Anne’s and she took it to stay with her. Maybe she has a husband after all named Paul (Rufus Sewell), who she still lives with. And maybe she’s now played by Olivia Williams in a smart cast, given their similar characteristics. The arrival of Imogen Poots as a potential candidate to deal with Anthony brings some sunshine, as it gives him the opportunity to flirt with a pretty young lady. He is exciting and charming while declaring playfully: “It’s aperitif time!” But she also reminds him of his other daughter, who was an artist, and what happened to his painting hanging over the coat…? Anthony’s first meeting with Laura de Poots is a prime example of what a shock it can be when Zeller pulls the rug out from under us – never in a whimsical way, but rather as a reflection of the jarring changes taking place in the mind and the character’s mood. We feel them too.