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Bill Nighy the Screen Guy: Actor’s Best Work Now Streaming

This piece was written before — but published after — the 2023 Academy Awards, during which Britain’s Bill Nighy competed for Best Actor.

But even if Nighy wound up losing to Brendan Fraser, his many fans still have cause to celebrate — because the film he was tapped for is now available to stream! Simply titled “Living,” it stands as the crowning achievement on Nighy’s impressive 75-film resume.

Pronounced “Nye” — like TV’s well-known “science guy” — Nighy is one of those actors you immediately recognize, even if his name doesn’t always ring a bell. He’s the tall and slender chap with fair, wavy hair who charmed us in such films as “About Time,” “Love Actually” and 2020’s “Emma,” starring Anya Taylor-Joy; he also played Davy Jones in the second “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

A late 2022 release that recently finished a brief run at Muncy’s Regal, “Living” is based on “Ikiru,” the lesser-known 1952 masterpiece by legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It was scripted by Nobel-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, whose “Never Let Me Go” and “Remains of the Day” were likewise made into fine motion pictures.

“Living” is set in 1950s London, with Nighy as a useless bureaucrat shuffling papers in a stuffy London office with about as much excitement as a frozen mud-puddle. Indeed, when the cadaverous “Mr. Williams” suddenly learns he has advanced cancer, he confesses to a stranger that he’d like to live a little.

But he doesn’t know how.

Like its Japanese predecessor, “Living” will show its stiffly starched protagonist starting to unbend as he tries first family, then fun, then friendship and finally kindness to give some meaning to his final months.

Never better, Nighy consistently underplays a role that calls for great restraint while also allowing that twinkle-in-the-eye for which this actor is so famous. And speaking of performers: Aimee Lou Wood, of Netflix’s “Sex Education,” is simply sensational as a kind-hearted co-worker with whom Williams finally connects; she should’ve nailed an Oscar nom as well.

Another triumph is this movie’s understated approach to the inherent melodrama of such tropes as terminal illness and the search for meaning. In the latter case, Ishiguro focuses on the moderate and modest, stressing that no legacy is spotless or eternal; that it’s best to pick one or two good things and do them well; and that for Williams especially, it will be tough to break through to full freedom after so many years of zombie-like existence.

Indeed, Ishiguro plays it so low-key that many will find the first hour slow — though that is also true of “Ikiru,” which is 40 minutes longer than this film. But stick with it: During one late café scene between Williams and his young lady-friend, “Living” unleashes an emotional deluge, which thereafter just keeps flowing deeper and stronger.

Second only to the brilliantly acted “Till” (also now streaming), this was one of my favorites from 2020; Nighy fans shouldn’t miss it.

And frankly, neither should anyone else.