Golf drama is more than par for the course
So how are you with golf? If you subscribe to the Kipling theory – a good walked spoiled and all that – you might struggle with Tommy’s Honour right from the outset. But hang on in there, because this isn’t just a historical sporting movie.
You can decide for yourself who is the Tommy of the title. Old Tom Morris (Peter Mullan), the club maker and head groundsman at St Andrew’s or his son, Tommy (Jack Lowden), a prodigiously talented golfer who wins The Open three times in a row. The father is the traditionalist, the son more rebellious, challenging the status quo and, between them, they mark the sport’s move into the modern era. Although this is the late 1880s so the greens are far from the manicured turf we’ve come to expect and plastic tees have yet to be invented. A small mound of sand has to do the job.
For the golf fans, there’s plenty of driving and putting, but with the wooden handled clubs of the time. The spectators are predominantly male and, if you expect them to be quiet and respectful – this is the Victorian era, after all – then you’ll be disappointed as more than one punch-up breaks out. Because young Tommy precedes todays professionals by playing for money, but usually a winner takes all wager. Unsurprisingly, it all gets a bit heated.
The Scottish flavour is unmistakable, complete with thick tweeds and mighty whiskers, so it’s no wonder that the film was chosen to open last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. And, of course, the English come in for a few knocks. The game of golf towards the end of the film pits young Tommy against the talented golfing son of a wealthy ex-military Englishman. Guess who wins? Heading up the golf club is Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill) with an English accent that sticks out like a sore thumb among all the Scots surrounding him. And it’s the club that represents the class divide the younger Morris attempts to break down as he tries to make it as a golfer, barging into the clubhouse even though he’s not a member and refusing to be dismissed as merely a promising caddie.
But, for all the golf, historical context and social commentary, the film’s biggest strength is its depiction of the Morris family. The fascinating father and son dynamic between Old Tom and Tommy, one built on the usual mixture of respect and frustration with each other and how rules aren’t just passed down in sport but through generations. Tommy’s first love, Meg (Ophelia Lovibond) who turns out to have a past that his church-going parents disapprove of. Not that it stops him marrying her. And the effect of his love for her on his game.
The film does itself no favours in its opening scenes, with the arrival of a journalist in search of Old Tom’s story. It’s a time worn convention, and one that re-appears with monotonous regularity throughout the film. But, put that on one side, and you have a film with solid performances, especially from Mullan and the increasingly chameleon-like Lowden, and a moving second half. It may not be a film that exactly gets your pulse racing but, in its unassuming way, it has more to offer than simply a round or two of golf.
Tommy’s Honour is released on DVD on Monday, 30 October.