In the movie Living, the audience is introduced to a young man named Wakeling (Alex Sharp) on the train on his way to a new job as a paper-pusher for the department of public works in 1950s London. He learns he should not make small talk with his colleagues on the transit.
But he turns out not to be the focus of the story. Instead, it is Williams (Bill Nighy), the department head. Williams is a stiff, stoic bureaucrat; his offices and others like his have mastered the art of being very busy while accomplishing next to nothing. Then he receives a formidable diagnosis but finds it difficult to share the news with his son and daughter-in-law.
At this point, the always-present and never-tardy man decides to try to experience life. But he doesn’t know how. Williams goes out of town and engages a stranger, a playwright named Sutherland (Tom Burke). But Sutherland’s suggestions aren’t what he needs.
Maybe Williams’ former underling, Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), who he meets serendipitously, might help.
The movie is a remake of the 1952 Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru, which I was not familiar with. Indeed, Ikuri shows up in the opening credits; for a time, I thought I had gone to the wrong theater.
Bill Nighy does buttoned-up very well, and Williams’ incremental breaks from his staid existence – he changes from his traditional bowler hat! – is believable.
The movie is slow, which is not meant at all as a criticism. It’s not an action flick. But it is moving. And it’s economical; at 102 minutes, it’s 40 minutes shorter than Ikiru.
Bill Nighy is rightly nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor. Kazuo Ishiguro is up for the Adapted Screenplay. The movie would be a more worthy nominee for Best Picture than a third of the films that got the nod.
I viewed Living at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany in early February.