Long before Sergio García, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer became the people most associated with the game of golf a father and son team were the most famous names on the fairway. A new film, “Tommy’s Honour,” lionizes Tom Morris (known as Old Tom and played by Peter Mullan) and Tommy Morris (Young Tom, played by Jack Lowden) as the founders of the modern game.
Based on the book “Tommy’s Honour: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son” and brought to the screen by Jason Connery, the film takes place against a backdrop of nineteenth century class struggle. Old Tom is the greenskeeper of Scotland’s St. Andrews Links, the largest golf complex in Europe. He is a traditionalist, a man accepting of his place in society. Not so his oldest son Tommy. A golf prodigy, he has a healthy disregard for authority and an eye toward doing things his way. He refuses to accept his lot in life—become a caddy and then one day, perhaps, work his way up to greenskeeper. His talent and arrogance win out, however, and even though championship play was reserved for the wealthy he went on to become (and still remains), at age 17, the youngest ever winner of what is now known as the British Open.
Flushed with success he demands a larger share of his winnings, butting heads with upper crust types like St. Andrews club captain Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill). Personally he defies his religious mother by dating Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond), an older woman with a scandalous past.
Showdowns, both personal and professional, follow as “Tommy’s Honour” explores the sport and societal norms of the time.
The best sports movies are never really about the sport and “Tommy’s Honour” is no different. Golf supplies the backdrop for an examination of the social shift of the game, from a gentleman’s past time to a game for (almost) everyone. It’s a class study with plenty of melodrama and father-and-son clashes that should supply some level of interest to non-golf fans.
Director Connery is workmanlike in his presentation of the story, preferring to simply document the performances rather than clutter the screen with fancy editing or swooping crane shots of St. Andrews. It’s a stately, traditionally made film about a radical change to the game.
Mullan hits a hole in one as Old Tom, bringing gravitas and fire to the role. Lowden is a fresh-faced find, a charismatic actor who carries the movie.
“Tommy’s Honour” succeeds because of its subtext, the underlying investigation of social mores of the day told through one family’s story and their influence on the game of golf.
Richard hosted a screening of the historical golf drama “Tommy’s Honour” with director Jason Connery at the Oakville Cineplex. Hear an in-depth conversation between the two on the Richard Crouse Show on NewsTalk 1010 at 9 pm on Saturday May 6.
“Tommy soon outshines his father, winning The Open three times in a row while still in his teens. The “dashing young man of golf”, he draws flocks of spectators to the sport and becomes its first touring professional.
“Father and son repeatedly clash over the unwritten rules of social class, and this culminates when Tommy marries his sweetheart Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), a woman of lower standing with a shameful secret in her past. As the story concludes, Old Tom makes a fatal misjudgement that strips Tommy of everything he holds dear. Following the results of that fateful choice, Old Tom takes on a personal mission that carries him through the final decades of his life: that of honouring his son Tommy.”
Based on the 1932 novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, “Sunset Song” is a story of a young Scottish heroine’s search for happiness and independence. Set in the years leading up to the World War I, Terence Davies brings this sombre adaptation of the classic book to grim, gritty life.
Aberdeenshire lass Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) lives in grinding poverty on a farm on the on Scotland’s north-east coast. She feels an obligation to the land and her siblings but dreams of moving away from her tyrannical father (Peter Mullan) to become a teacher in the city. Her father’s cruelty takes a toll on all around her, particularly her brother Will (Jack Greenlees) who is subjected to brutal belt-buckle beatings to keep his rebellious spirit in line. A marriage to the sweet-natured Ewan (Kevin Guthrie) turns sour when he briefly returns from war, hardened by Western Front trench warfare.
Suicide, rape and misery are the order of the day in “Sunset Song.” “Sunset Song” is almost relentlessly grim, save for a fleeting moment of happiness in the middle. It’s the kind of movie that builds drama by wallowing in the wretchedness and dysfunction of its characters.
There are some memorable moments, many courtesy of cinematographer Michael McDonough who grounds the story with beautifully composed shots of the serene countryside that surrounds Chris and her family. Davies directs the camera in some truly spectacular ways but cannot get around the fact that the movie’s first and second act sturm and drang peter out in the third, leaving the film feeling lopsided.
Former model Deyn occasionally battles with the Scottish accent but otherwise hands in an effective performance that cold be her breakthrough. As the patriarchal oppressor Mullan revisits familiar territory—it’s a riff on his characters from “NEDS” and “Top of the Lake”—but is a fierce presence nonetheless. Greenlees’s big scene involves a minutes-long shot that focuses on his face as his father viciously beats him. Guthrie has good chemistry with Deyn until his personality changes and he returns from war, hardened and heartless.
“Sunset Song” is a beautifully made but severe movie about an indomitable spirit clashing with harsh reality. On the downside it features an occasionally difficult-to-understand Scottish dialect and sometime errs on the dull side, but, on the upside, it just as often creates moments of pure lyrical beauty.