Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Olivia Colman as Anne and Anthony Hopkins as Anthony in Florian Zeller's The Father.

SEAN GLEASON/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.

  • The Father
  • Directed by Florian Zeller
  • Written by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
  • Starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman
  • Classification PG; 97 minutes

CRITIC’S PICK

With the conviction of the paranoid, an old man accuses his daughter: “I don’t know what she’s cooking up against me, but she’s cooking something up.” And the well-meaning adult child, hurt and frustrated by a demented parent, can only wipe away a tear. There are loud echoes of the mad Lear and the wrongfully shunned Cordelia in Florian Zeller’s film The Father, with Anthony Hopkins’ affecting performance raising a contemporary story to the heights of Shakespearean tragedy.

Story continues below advertisement

But that is just the icing on the cake in this psychological thriller about an old man, also named Anthony, losing his independence to dementia. The foundation beneath Hopkins’ performance is Zeller’s wickedly inventive approach to narrative, casting and even the film’s set design as the French dramatist adapts his own award-winning 2012 play for the screen. With a shifting timeline and competing versions of both events and characters, Zeller reproduces his protagonist’s confusion in his audience.

The 80-year-old Anthony lives alone in a well-appointed London flat. He insists he can manage on his own but his long-divorced daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) is trying to hire a young caregiver for him before she moves away to Paris to seize a chance at mid-life love.

“No Dad, why do you keep going on about Paris?” asks Colman’s touchingly pained Anne, who has welcomed her father into her own home despite the presence of her increasingly resentful husband. Colman’s performance is also superb, expressing the depths of Anne’s love, need and hurt with a faint hint of childhood’s pouting airs.

Occasionally you get glimpses of the little girl devoted to her “little Daddy.” (That’s an unfortunately direct translation of a French endearment, and one of the rare slips in a sharp screenplay that Zeller worked on with the British dramatist Christopher Hampton.) And occasionally you lose sight of Anne altogether: Cast changes complicate the muddled story further as different actors take over key roles. The brilliant Zeller gaslights his own audience just as life is gaslighting Anthony.

The Father is a familiar and universal story.

Elevation Pictures

Besides Shakespeare, there are many large theatrical precedents for this script. The non-sequiturs that the cast changes and narrative shifts produce are almost comic, recalling the absurdism of Eugène Ionesco’s scripts, while Harold Pinter also observed the way in which family members can use conflicting stories or different memories as weapons against each other. And Broadway playwright Sharr White used a similarly unreliable protagonist in The Other Place in 2011, letting the character’s delusions gradually dawn on the audience.

Perhaps it is not surprising that The Father may remind you of other powerful plays. Zeller is a playwright and theatre director – this is his first film – and indeed, this film does suffer some of that narrowness that so often troubles plays adapted for the screen. A visit to a doctor’s office is one of very few scenes that takes place outside Anthony’s domestic setting, and it feels a bit extraneous.

Yet there are also films that use that use such limits to great effect: In 2012, Michael Haneke’s Amour similarly captured the claustrophobia of old age trapped in a genteel apartment and what Zeller does with his tight setting is equally poignant. The flat is a picture of restrained design (Peter Francis is the production designer; Cathy Featherstone did the set decoration) that suggests upper middle-class wealth and the well-ordered life Anthony is losing, but it also gradually changes. It would probably take multiple viewings to recognize when his space becomes his daughter’s place or the room in a care home; the set design is superbly well integrated into the shifting story.

Story continues below advertisement

Yes, The Father is a familiar story and a universal one. Yet Zeller has been uniquely inventive in the way he evokes the unreliability of memory and the subjectivity of experience in the senile – and the healthy. The audience never does learn the whole story in a film that is both mind-bending and heart-rending.

The Father opens in select Canadian theatres, dependent on local health restrictions, March 19; it will be available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and Google Play, starting March 26

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies