Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Good Father (1985)

Adapted by Christopher Hampton from the 1983 novel of the same name from Peter Prince, The Good Father is a 1985 film directed by Mike Newell from the early days of Film Four. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Bill Hooper, a man who has become so embittered by the fact that his separation from his wife (Harriet Walter) has meant that he is only allowed one day a week with their infant son, that he's effectively lashing out at the world around him 24/7 - indeed, even the merest turn of his head is delivered with a whipcrack intensity. It's the perfect role for this mid career Hopkins and it tackles it with an overwrought relish, but his dissatisfaction means he is far from a likeable character: you see, he's the kind of weekend dad who now loudly proclaims  all women to be 'bitches', whilst wailing repeatedly at the injustice of a society that dares to take the rights of women into account. 

This attitude is in stark contrast to Bill's radical youth some twenty years earlier which, by his own admittance, saw him both supportive and involved in the cause for greater equality (although his memory of these times are recalled with a notable, sour jealousy at the fact that he was making tea whilst the women chatted, argued and laughed - kind of missing the point there Bill, you can't complain of feeling briefly left out when the women you were allegedly supporting had been left out for centuries) but now, wherever Bill's caustic eye looks, he sees a society full of lesbian activist feminazis who view men with scorn (in one scene his liberal lawyer friend played by Miriam Margolyes - who else? - is en route to a CND march  wearing a T-shirt which proclaims that 'All Men Are Rapists') and support the theory that the male of the species is somehow subhuman and surplus to requirements. 

In short, Bill Hooper's a man on course for a meltdown and Hopkins plays it for all it's worth. If you told me at the start of the film that The Good Father was actually about how a misogynistic divorcee seeks some twisted revenge on womankind by killing every one that he came across I wouldn't have been surprised! Thankfully though, that isn't the plot. The plot comes in the shape of Jim Broadbent's rather sweetly pathetic teacher Roger, who Bill meets at a party one evening. Roger reveals that he too is separated, his wife having left him for another woman (Bill sniggers up his sleeve at the very thought of a lesbian love affair, another ugly misogynistic trait), and announced her plans to take their son to Australia. Appalled to hear about this, Bill rallies to Roger's side and advises him to sue for custody, paying for his legal fees into the bargain. 

It becomes clear here that Bill is vicariously living his own desires through the easily malleable Roger and his newly galvanized state actually, rather ironically, allows him to experience life once more instead of existing on the fumes of bile and hatred. He starts a relationship with a much younger colleague, played by the go-to '80s siren Joanne Whalley (his boss by the way is played by Stephen Fry in his big screen debut), which helps him begin to see the error of his ways, and when he is confronted by two even bigger misogynistic shits than he is - in the shape of Roger's Thatcherite elitist lawyer played by Simon Callow, and Clifford Rose's reactionary judge who possesses some prehistoric, conservative views on lesbianism - he comes to realise how ridiculous and unfair his prejudiced, hate-filled mindset had been. More, he pieces the jigsaw of that mind together and realises the sobering truth at the root of all his problems: that he was the one to walk out on his marriage because he grew jealous of the love and attention his own child was getting - the very child he now feels it unfair to be kept apart from. 

I'm quite glad the film explored the facets of Bill's character to show that he was responsible for his own anger and that his sense of injustice was ultimately misplaced but, even with that revelation, he is still a long way from redeeming himself as the credits go up - and he, a pointedly solitary figure seated in the back garden of his new bachelor pad, is sure to know that. What would become of Bill? Well, I must admit to thinking he's probably one of those once liberal minded baby boomers who voted for Brexit.

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