Bill Nighy in “Living” 2022. IMDb photo

Here he is, the beloved British chameleon, the charmer, saloon tap dancer, film and Broadway Tony winner Bill Nighy, whom you remember as Billy Mack, the boozy sensualist rock star in “Love Actually,” or as the shy, retiring husband in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

But here, in director Oliver Hermanus’s, soft, dark and heart-breaking “Living,” based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 “Ikiru,” taken from Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” Nighy folds quietly into his pinstripes, bowler, soft leather bag and simple watch, spending colorless days as an invisible bureaucrat, and early bedtimes at day’s end.

Nighy is referred to at home as “Dad,” but at work, where he silently reigns in his role as Chief of Affairs, his is “Mr. Williams.” No one of his domain is ever called by their “Christian” names.

The 2023 Academy Award nominations include “Living” for Best Adapted Screenplay and Bill Nighy for Best Actor. ©A.M.P.A.S.

Each day, Mr. Williams leaves his son and daughter-in-law and joins the parade of bowler-topped lemmings.

In the office, the elevators, staircases, there is “Mr. Middleton,” “Mr. Hart” and so on down the line of pale faces in striped business suits. The suits, umbrellas, shoes and dark brief cases, are all the same, brown day in and brown day out.

Aboard the trains at day’s end, his underlings cluster in shadowy cabins to joke about him and his quiet ways.


At London’s County Hall, the daily requests of the city are shuffled from desk to desk and fall mostly unanswered, into “skyscrapers” of paper where one, a request for a petition for a children’s playground nearby seems to be ignored.

Only Miss Harris, (Aimee Lou Wood) the sweet blond ray of sunshine in the office, seems to care for him.

Then one damp day we follow Mr. Williams to his doctor’s office, where we watch his surgeon as he closes a folder, and solemnly tells him that only six or fewer months of life are marked on his calendar.

Williams takes the news home to his couch, in the dark living room where his son Michael (Barney Fishwick) and daughter-in-law Fiona (Patsy Ferran) seem used to his manner.

But there in the evening’s darkness, when his mind brings back sweet memories of his dead wife and youth, a bubble of light takes hold.

He begins to start a series of missed afternoons, he goes to his bank and withdraws his life savings, and sits on the beach, where he meets young Sutherland (Tom Burke), Orson Welles in 2020s “Mank”) who takes him to a rowdy bar and coaches him after a few drinks to sing solo an old Irish ballad. Here a crack in the dark breaks through.


It’s at this point we see the first remembered sunlight of the youthful Williams, and where he loses his gray hat and picks up a tossed aside brighter one at a table.

Willams, now freed of his decades of buttoned-up silence, returns to his office and startles his team with his decision to visit the slum alley, where the trio of women wanted to build a playground.

“Living” comes to a brighter day with a bustle of cleaning and building, and we’re left, for the moment, with a sense of renewal.

The final scene, much like Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” takes us to an evening view of his dream playground, where Mr. Williams sits in a child’s swing, slipping into the twilight of his life.

Hermanus, in this dark 1953-era London view of Kurasawa’s version, brings as much light to the endless darkness of Williams’ world as the story allows. Both he and Kurosawa and Tolstoy share the same problem, how to give as much light to Williams’ final days as they can.

The story after all, is about living, even in the final few days and how everyone present simply does their best with what they’re given. And here, Mr. Nighy the consummate actor, gathers all of his gifts and brightens our dark corners.

“Living” opens Jan. 27 at the Maine Film Center at 93 Main St. in Waterville.


J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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