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Bill Nighy is at his understated best in this impressive adaptation – and relocation – of Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1952 drama Ikiru.
What would you do if you found out you had little time left in this world? That’s the predicament that starchy, ineffectual middle management bureaucrat Mr Williams suddenly faces. The civil servant is dying, and he has no one to talk to. He has held his son and daughter-in-law at such a distance, they only regard him as the repository of a future inheritance. And those who work under him see only a cold, humourless official. It takes a complete stranger (an excellent Tom Burke, The Souvenir) to show him that his life can still have meaning, and a former employee (the equally impressive Aimee Lou Wood, Sex Education) to draw out his spirit. In the moment he faces death, Williams decides he has so much to give.
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) has adapted Kurosawa’s drama, transposing the action from Tokyo to 1950s London. South African director Oliver Hermanus shows how an outsider’s eye is often more perceptive in capturing another culture than those who know it so well. The fustiness of Whitehall is perfectly captured. But in his evocation of the 1950s, Hermanus has made a film that feels as though it were made in that era. And dominating the action – even in the significant sections where he is absent from the screen – is Nighy. He gives a beautifully delicate performance – a masterclass in restraint that gradually opens Williams up to the world and allows him, in the brief moment he has left, to have the time of his life.