Tommy's Honour

***

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Peter Mullan plays golfer Tom Morris
"The film rattles along at a fair pace, peppered with gentle warmth and good humour."

Beginning with an aerial shot of the ruins of St. Andrews and some plaintive fiddle music, Tommy’s Honour opens a little auspiciously, very much in the tradition of the mournful Scottish film. It soon finds its feet, however, and while it often threatens to employ too much cloying sentimentality, an excellent cast and a well written script ensure that this is mostly avoided and that this is a worthy film to open the 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

With the recent stooshie over Muirfield’s lamentable decision to continue forbidding the membership of women in its haughty golf club, and the contempt and arrogance with which a certain would-be president of the United States struts about his Scottish courses, it might be said that the game’s reputation may not be held in the highest esteem by those unfamiliar with its finer points.

Copy picture

Tommy’s Honour may pour some restorative balm on the wounds mentioned above, with its easy charm and the universality of its story which, as it happens, is less about golf and more about familial love. The wonderfully bearded Tom Morris Sr. is played by (who else) Peter Mullan, who brings one of his finer performances to the role, somehow managing to season his gruff curmudgeonly exterior with just the right hint of paternal warmth. His son, Tom Morris Jr., is portrayed superbly by Jack Lowden, a young actor we will undoubtedly be seeing more of (he has been cast in Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming WWII epic Dunkirk). There is a real chemistry between a father and son, who are bonded through their love of, and talent for, golf.

Yet the relationship is not without its tensions. Tom Jr. is very often the angry young man which British cinema has frequently excelled in bringing to the screen, eager to move out from his father’s shadow. Morris Sr. is the green keeper at the home of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews, and as such frequently caddies for the gentleman who are members of the antiquated institution. Added to that, the gentleman place large sums of money as bets on Morris Sr., and subsequently young Tom too, to win on the course. Yet the golfers themselves see little of this money.

Generational conflict arises as young Tom’s talent with the sticks brings a certain amount of glory, along with the still as yet unmatched honour of becoming the youngest winner of The Open, golf’s most prestigious tournament, and the only man to win it four years in a row. As such, young Tom begins to feel the injustice of the riches being made on his behalf by the esteemed, red coated gentlemen who belong to a club he cannot join. Sam Neill plays chief aristocrat Alexander Boothby, who is most offended by the impertinence of young Tom, who demands a fair share of the purse.

His father and the golfing gentry are not the only ones with whom young Tom comes into conflict. His mother disapproves of his courtship, and eventual marriage, of Meg, played by Ophelia Lovibond in yet another of the film’s strong performances, whom we learn lost a child previously, one born out of wedlock. It is around these barriers that the film rattles along at a fair pace, peppered with gentle warmth and good humour. At its heart it is an underdog story, one in which a talented young man from humble beginnings must prove his worth despite the confines of the British class system. This, allied with its look at the modern birth of the game of golf, ought to make it popular across the pond.

The film’s funniest moment arrives when a golfer, mulling over a winning putt, learns that the first prize is a goose, while the runner up gets a bottle of whisky. He promptly turns around and fires the putt as far wide as he can. Given that the closing film of this year’s festival is Whisky Galore! you’d think we had a fondness for the stuff. The film is directed by Jason Connery, and one imagines that the story of a young man trying to create his own sense of self from under the shadow of a famous father may have struck a chord. It is an amiable film which, while unlikely to set the heather alight, is more than par for the course.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2016
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Story about the father and son relationship between the founders of the modern game of golf.
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