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.