So much critical discussion of films adapted from plays centres on the notion of the ‘opening out’ of the action and on the ways in which the director and screenwriter have disguised the work’s theatrical origins, the implication being that this is always desirable or appropriate. Mike Nichols, with his extraordinary adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), understood that some works demand a restricted, claustrophobic setting; that film can indeed feed off the physical limitations that define the stage. With this principle squarely in mind, French playwright Florian Zeller has, along with English screenwriter Christopher Hampton, adapted for the screen his own play La Père (2012). A finer example of the process of translation is hard to conceive.
The film opens with daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) grimly entering the London apartment of her father Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) to discuss, clearly not for the first time, the matter of his care. He is out of sorts, convinced that the carer he has just dismissed or frightened off – for whom Anne must find a replacement – has stolen his watch. The quotidian struggles of dealing with a parent in the early stages of dementia (the lost objects, the spatial and temporal confusions) are deftly laid out, and it seems for ten or so minutes that we might be watching a beautifully articulated and expertly acted carer’s story, seen entirely from the dutiful daughter’s perspective.