Ralph Maitland (John Hurt) is an elderly writer who used to win prestigious awards for his screenplays, but now is in danger of being forgotten as he lives in semi-retirement in his villa in Portugal's Algarve, writing every day but with no guarantee it will be published or produced. He has his younger, fortysomething wife Anna (Sofia Helin) to look after him, indeed they met when he was her patient and she was a nurse, but a visit to the cardiology specialist gives him news he did not wish to hear: he is dying. It's something he expected to happen, so not much of a surprise, but the imminence of the final event in his life is hitting him harder than he expected it to - should he encourage it?
Basically, should Ralph opt for euthanasia since he does not relish his body breaking down and Anna being at his beck and call over however many months it will take him to pass away? But That Good Night was not wholly wrapped up in the controversy over the right to end one's life, as it was more of a character study of its protagonist, deftly played in irascible fashion by Hurt. Aptly, it was to be his final role since the actor was dying himself and would pass away before the film was given a release, rendering his portrayal of a man who is leaving the world all the more poignant in light of how admired Hurt was, and the genuine loss felt by his passing, from the acting world as well as society's.
Not that you imagine Ralph nor Hurt would be entirely happy with such sentimentality, though everyone would like to think they would be missed when they ultimately shuffle off the old mortal coil, however accurate that may be. Ralph, certainly, has a personality that leaves much to be desired, admired because of the truth in his writing, but when that truth manifests itself as bluntness in real life interactions, you are not too surprised to see him living in something close to isolation, aside from his wife, as we don't see any old pals dropping by to socialise. The implication being, he has chased away all those pals and now his reputation is fading, there's not many left who care.
The title was drawn from the Dylan Thomas poem, all that stuff about raging against the dying of the light, though Ralph seems to be embracing his dying to the extent that he welcomes into his home a representative of a euthanasia society who illegally but secretly perform the deed for their stricken clients. Or does he? The white-suited visitor, played by Charles Dance, may be a figment of Ralph's still-powerful imagination as he drifts into illness-induced senility, though it had to be said his scenes where Hurt and Dance interacted were the best in the movie, those two old pros knowing how to get the best out of each other and it was a pleasure to see them share the screen and trade lines of dialogue. For that reason, That Good Night was worth a look, as while not hugely eventful, as an actor's workout it was more than adequate.
There was more to the story, as Ralph's son Michael (British TV stalwart Max Brown) shows up with his girlfriend Cassie (Erin Richards, best known from the Gotham TV series but using her real accent) to see about his father, only for Ralph to react badly to Cassie's presence. We can perceive this is down to him being secretly jealous of his son's good fortune in matching up with an attractive woman, but it does push not only her, but Michael away too, just at the moment when he should be encouraging them to be closer to him as every day he has left grows theoretically more precious. This was based on a play by N.J. Crisp, penned at the end of his own career which prompts you to believe it was autobiographical since he was successful in various media, yet you rarely hear him mentioned in discussions of great writers despite that success; not that Hurt would be afflicted with that, and he proved a tribute to both Crisp's insight and his own ability here in a film that would likely appeal more to the older moviegoer, and that was no bad thing. Music (bit twinkly) by Guy Farley.