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LIVING: 4 STARS. “a heartbreaking performance that bristles with life.”

A reimagining of “Ikiru,” the 1952 film Roger Ebert called Akira Kurosawa’s greatest movie, “Living” transplants the action from Tokyo to London, but maintains the thoughtful emotionalism that earned the original accolades.

Bill Nighy plays Mr. Williams, a post-World War II veteran bureaucrat in the county Public Works department, who leads a life of quiet desperation. Widowed, and living with his son and daughter-in-law, Michael (Barney Fishwick) and Fiona (Patsy Ferran), his life has a “Groundhog Day” regularity.

From the train commute and boring paper shuffling at work, to the long nights in the company of his disinterested son and his wife, he is sleepwalking through a rinse and repeat rut. One of his employees, Miss Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), has even nicknamed him Mr. Zombie.

“You need to live a little,” he’s told. “I don’t know how,” comes the reply.

But when he is diagnosed with a terminal illness, given just months to live, he breaks free of the shackles of his former life to seize each and every day.

Despite his quiet, internalized performance, Nighy is the center of attention. Mr. Williams is buttoned-down and repressed, but as he lets the inner light shine, a long-lost warmth emerges. Whether he’s singing a sentimental song in a pub or teaching Miss. Harris how to use an arcade game, Nighy blossoms. He never allows grief to enter the picture, instead he’s introspective, looking back at a life left unfulfilled.

“It’s a small wonder,” he says, “I didn’t notice what I was becoming.”

It’s a heartbreaking performance, but one that bristles with life the closer Mr. Williams comes to death.

“Living” is a restrained movie, “A Christmas Carol” of a sort about a man visited by two spirits, in this case a very real novelist (Tom Burke) and Miss. Harris, who teach him to embrace whatever time he has left on earth. With beautiful mid-century period details, director Oliver Hermanus tells a simple story of regret, sadness and a last attempt at doing something meaningful.

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