Second Best

  • 1994
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Drama

SECOND BEST is a modest, emotionally persuasive drama about a bachelor trying to adopt a 10-year-old boy. Carried by William Hurt's outstanding performance, the film is sentimental but never mawkish. As the film opens, three-year-old James (Nathan Yapp) is kidnapped from an orphanage by his father, John (Keith Allen), an escaped prisoner. Before turning...read more

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SECOND BEST is a modest, emotionally persuasive drama about a bachelor trying to adopt a 10-year-old boy. Carried by William Hurt's outstanding performance, the film is sentimental but never mawkish.

As the film opens, three-year-old James (Nathan Yapp) is kidnapped from an orphanage by his father, John (Keith Allen), an escaped prisoner. Before turning himself in, John extracts a promise from his son that he will always love him. Several years later, we meet Graham Holt (William Hurt), a

Welsh postmaster. Graham, a 42-year-old bachelor who still lives at home with his father, has just decided that he wants to adopt a child. He is screened by Debbie (Jane Horrocks), a wisecracking social worker, before being introduced to James (Chris Cleary Miles), now 10. As the emotionally

inhibited Graham gets to know James, he begins to open up. His new role as surrogate father forces him to come to grips with his relationship with his own parents: "I never knew what they wanted of me," he explains. The boy is having his own difficulties with the past and exhibits self-destructive

tendencies. A letter from his father in prison sends him into a tailspin, but when Graham's father dies, James's consolation brings Graham back emotionally.

James is eventually permitted to live with Graham, where all goes well until, inevitably, James's father appears. John has been released from prison because he is dying of AIDS and he wants to see his son. Graham has no objections, but the sight of his father causes James to run off. He digs a

foxhole and conceals himself in a field and confronts the memory of his mother's suicide, which has caused emotional problems. It is there that Graham finds him. Walking back, Graham finally sheds his diffidence. He tells the boy, "I won't be second best; if it's going to work, it'll have to be as

father and son." The boy takes his hand as they walk into the village.

In SECOND BEST, the action rarely leaves the tiny Welsh community where Graham lives. That the film's look and viewpoint remain small is a credit to director Chris Menges, better known as the Academy Award-winning cinematographer for such larger-than-life movies as THE MISSION and THE KILLING

FIELDS. There is no visual ostentation here: what stands out is the fullness of the characters and the situation. There are no bad guys for James to be rescued from--even his father is portrayed sympathetically--and the climax comes off as a small but significant emotional victory, not a

melodramatic set-piece.

Hurt is terrific; his growth from self-sufficient loner to loving father echoes his equally convincing performance in THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Thankfully, he handles the Welsh accent with a light touch and seems to inhabit the character completely. Among the other actors, Horrocks (LIFE IS SWEET)

stands out in a small role, offering a wry commentary on Graham's quest for a child.

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  • Released: 1994
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: SECOND BEST is a modest, emotionally persuasive drama about a bachelor trying to adopt a 10-year-old boy. Carried by William Hurt's outstanding performance, the film is sentimental but never mawkish. As the film opens, three-year-old James (Nathan Yapp)… (more)

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