Joyce Glasser reviews Tommy’s Honour (July 7, 2017), Cert. PG, 112 min.
Jason Joseph Connery, Sean’s son, has directed a handsome and well-acted, though dramatically flat, historic film, adapted from Kevin Cook’s book, Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son. If that’s a mouthful, a double biopic is also hard to manage. Both Old Tom (a hirsute, heavily accented and convincing Peter Mullan), the St Andrews’ greens-keeper, ball maker and legendary course designer, and his son Tom (Jack Lowden), the charming champion golfer who tore up the rule book, compete for centre stage.
As if to acknowledge the confusion, Connery constructs the film as a flash-back in which Old Tom is approached by a journalist from the London Times to do a story on the famous Morris golfing family, leading to some expository dialogue to set the scene. The relationship between the hard-working, pioneering father and the talented, visionary son is the more clichéd aspect of this film, however, even if it seems to be factually accurate.
In 1868, dashing 17-year-old Tom Morris (Lowden) has come out from under his father’s shadow as the youngest open champion in golfing history. In a stand-off with the Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (Sam Neill), young Tom refuses to follow his dad and caddy for tips. He demands to be paid a fee for playing. Old Tom is furious with his son for jeopardizing his livelihood and the natural order of things. But we have to wonder what all the fuss is about when Old Tom is clearly indispensible for the whiskey drinking, whiskered Victorian gents who putter around the gold courses that Old Tom designed.
Further tension arises in the family when young Tom marries an older woman, Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond) of a low social standing. There is a welcome chemistry between the excellent Lovibond and Lowden that helps us feel the tragedy that occurs when the happy couple is expecting their first child.
For all the beautiful scenery, we do not get a sense of place to match the sense of period evoked through the excellent costumes and production design. It takes a while to realize that Meg lives some distance away from Tommy and that when a gentleman from Black Heath comes to tempt the popular, rising star Tommy away, he is not talking about Black Heath in London.
The charismatic, effervescent stage, TV and film actor Lowden – who plays a fighter pilot in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming blockbuster, Dunkirk – illuminates the screen, but neither he nor Mullan are natural golfers, and, ironically, Connery struggles to direct the golf scenes. It could be the nature of the game, but there is a singular lack of suspense and excitement about the tournaments. And all of the tournaments – including the Christmas Day 1875 ‘friendly’ that results in the film’s climactic, tragic end – blend into one another without a narrative built up to lend them dramatic weight.
You can watch the film trailer here: