Struggling to navigate this muddied mélange of past and present is a brilliant Hopkins, giving a performance that’s both charismatic and ferocious, sometimes within the same breath. There’s mind-blowing specificity to his technique here as he’s called upon to convey a wide range of feelings and emotions, but also a softness and openness we’ve rarely seen from him. It’s some of the absolute best work of Hopkins’ lengthy and storied career.
And as his daughter, Anne, Olivia Colman is consistently his equal. She, too, must ride this roller coaster and struggle to put on a British, stiff upper lip within a situation that’s steadily crumbling. She’ll manage a smile as tears well in her eyes or flinch ever so slightly yet maintain her patience when her father says something rude and insulting. As our guide—as much as Zeller will allow us one—Colman is tremendous as always.
But mainly we see the world through Anthony’s eyes, and at first, that seems like a pretty peaceful place to be. When we spy him initially, he’s listening to opera on a pleasant afternoon in his spacious, tastefully appointed London flat. But soon, Anne stops by to visit and informs him she’s met someone and is moving to Paris to be with him. His demeanor changes instantly and, feeling wounded, he lashes out: “You?” he asks incredulously. “You mean, a man?” Later, as the long-term reality of this news hits him, he reveals a deeper layer of hurt: “So if I understand correctly, you’re leaving me, is that it? You’re abandoning me.” His face falls a bit but he still tries to exert a measure of control and bravado.
Some version of this sort of conversation happens again and again—over where he placed his beloved watch, for example, or the cruel treatment he inflicted upon his previous at-home caregiver. And just when we think we’re getting into the rhythm of “The Father,” it changes the tempo and the players. Maybe this isn’t Anthony’s flat—maybe it’s Anne’s and she’s taken him in to stay with her. Maybe she has a husband after all, named Paul (Rufus Sewell), with whom she still lives. And maybe now she’s being played by Olivia Williams in a clever bit of casting, given their similar features. The arrival of Imogen Poots as a potential candidate to look after Anthony provides some sunshine, as it gives him the opportunity to flirt with a pretty young woman. He’s randy and charming as he declares playfully, “Time for an aperitif!” But she also reminds him of his other daughter, who was an artist, and whatever happened to that painting of hers that was hanging above the mantle … ? Anthony’s first meeting with Poots’ Laura is a great example of what a shock it can be when Zeller pulls the rug out from underneath us—never in gimmicky fashion, but rather as a reflection of the jarring changes occurring within the character’s mind and mood. We feel them, too.