Tommy’s Honour – movie review

Unlike boxing, NFL football, horse racing, car racing, or even surfing, golf is not the most cinematic of sports and holds little appeal for adrenaline junkies. However, we have had a few films set against the backdrop of the sport, including the Adam Sandler comedy Happy Gilmore, Tin Cup starring Kevin Costner, and Robert Redford’s The Legend Of Bagger Vance, which starred Will Smith and Matt Damon. And now we get Tommy’s Honour, a biopic and historical drama that looks at the two men who changed the nature of the game and shaped golf into the professional sport as we know it today.

Written by Pamela Marin, and adapted from Kevin Cook’s award winning 2007 book Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son, the film tells the story of Tommy Morris and his son Tommy jr, who won the first of four consecutive British Open Championships at the age of 17, a record that has never been bettered.

Tommy senior (played in typically gruff fashion by Peter Mullan) was the respected head groundskeeper and caddy at St Andrews, the venerable home of the game of golf, in the 1870s. He crafted the clubs and the special balls used by the gentlemen who participated in the game. He would also occasionally caddy for them. He also was an accomplished designer of courses. He knew his place in the well-established pecking order. His son Tommy jr (played by Jack Lowden, from Dunkirk, etc) had higher aspirations and, driven by ambition and considerable skill and plenty of trick shots, he became a champion of the game. But he also grew a little bored with the rituals and traditions associated with the sport and often clashed with the stuffy hierarchy of St Andrews. And while he might have been regarded as something of a hero by many of the locals, he would never become a gentleman, according to the toffs of St Andrews. Morris jr would play all comers and even participate in bizarre challenges, and he became quite wealthy with the many wagers placed on the games.

He also fell in love with Mary (Ophelia Lovibond, from Guardians Of The Galaxy, etc), a scullery maid who worked at a local dining establishment. His mother (Therese Bradley) though vehemently disapproved of the relationship, which brought some tension to the Morris household. Morris jr died tragically at the young age of 24, but he has been recognised as one of the founders of the modern game of golf and one of the sport’s all-time champions.

Tommy’s Honour is a well-meaning film that deals with themes of class, social status, family, tradition, love, masculinity and pride. It is the fifth feature film for actor turned director Jason Connery, the son of legendary Bond star Sean Connery, and it is obvious that he has a passion for the material. Connery junior grew up playing golf alongside his more famous father. One can’t help but read between the lines of the subtext of this prickly father son relationship and the son’s desire to break free of a father’s shadow and forge his own path. However, the film is quite slow paced, and is akin to the cinematic equivalent of a leisurely walk around a golf course. Connery never develops a sense of urgency, and he tends to abandon the far more interesting and gripping golf games for more of the cliched domestic dramas. Some of the dialogue is trite and cliched though, and the Scottish accents quite thick.

This is a handsomely mounted production and it has a great sense of history, through attention to costumes and period detail, that reek of authenticity. The course at St Andrews itself looks much like a rough cow paddock, not the smooth carefully manicured greens that we recognise today. And the games often saw brawls break out in the middle of the greens. The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Gary Shaw (Moon, etc) who captures the wild beauty of the Scottish landscapes.

Mullan has always been a strong character actor, and he brings plenty of gravitas, dignity and nuance to his performance here. However, his very broad accent renders much of his dialogue a little hard to understand. Lowden brings a brashness to his role as the younger Morris who is eager to break away from the constraints imposed on him by tradition and status. He is a rising star and he is more than a match for Mullan’s fierce bluster. Sam Neill brandishes an impressive set of sideburns as the boorish Boothby, the captain of St Andrews, who resents the upstart Morris junior challenging the traditional order.

Tommy’s Honour will certainly appeal to golf fans with its faithful recreation of the early days of the sport and its authentic historical aesthetic.

Director: Jason Connery
Cast: Peter Mullan, Sam Neill, Ophelia Lovibond, Jack Lowden, Therese Bradley
Release Date: 7 September 2017
Rating: M

Greg King

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