Father, The: French Florian Zeller’s Feature Debut, Starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman

Sundance Film Fest 2020–For his debut feature, The Father, French playwright Florian Zeller had only one actor in mind to play the titular elderly man, who’s losing his grip on reality: Sir Anthony Hopkins.

But when he told his friends he was hoping to cast Hopkins, the Oscar winner for The Silence of the Lambs, they laughed at him, Zeller admitted at a Q&A after the screening.

“Of course, I was aware it was not an easy dream to fulfill,” he said. “Because I’m French, this was my first feature film, so Anthony Hopkins is not that easy to get. But until someone comes and says, ‘No, it is not possible,’ it may be possible.’”

Zeller wrote the script in English with Christopher Hampton, who has translated all of Zeller’s previous plays. Et voilà: “We sent it to Anthony, and one day someone called me and said, ‘Anthony wants to meet with you in Los Angeles.’ And this is how it happened.”

Hopkins signed on, and he wanted to do the film right away. “When I first met Anthony, he was very enthusiastic about the script,” Zeller noted. “He said, ‘Let’s do it in four months.’”

Zeller was stunned: “I was like, ‘What?’ I was excited for his energy. But the shooting was postponed a few times, and so during that time we were able to have a conversation about the characters. By the time we started shooting on set, we had these strong relationships, very intimate. And we were aware that we wanted to tell the same story. In the end, it was really part of the story and part of the film.

Assisted by vet screenwriter Hampton, the play is transferred to the screen with a compelling vision and remarkable confidence.

Oscar winner Olivia Colman plays the role of Antony’s dutiful daughter Anne, whose loving devotion is tested daily by her father’s mercurial moods.  Zeller recalled: “I come from the theater and I saw her on stage several times in London. I knew that I needed someone like her—someone you could really feel empathy for. I didn’t want just to have the story of this man losing his bearings. I also wanted to tell the story of the daughter trying to save and help her father.”

Hopkins renders an astounding performance–it’s heartbreaking watching him try to rationally explain to himself and those around him what he’s experiencing.