Edinburgh International Film Festival opens with an earnest golfing drama that's as exciting as you'd expect, but the fine cast save it from being mired in the rough
Awash in enough national signifiers to satisfy the cruel overlords of the Visit Scotland tourist board – rugged and majestic windswept vistas; a sufficient amount of tweed to make a university professor blush; golf, golf, and more golf – director Jason Connery’s Tommy’s Honour is an earnest and amiable ‘prestige’ picture that engenders all the excitement that implies. Which is to say, not that much. Of course, Connery (double-plus Scottish points for being the progeny of Edinburgh’s favourite son) has his work cut out for him considering the parameters of the story he’s telling. It’s difficult to mine much dramatic conflict from a sports film about a golfing prodigy who starts out winning and just keeps on going. Instead, Tommy’s Honour relies on hearty doses of intergenerational conflict and class strife to give it weight, but that doesn’t really rescue this historical biopic from being anything more than blandly respectable.
Jack Lowden stars as the titular Tommy Morris, a 19th-century golfing legend who won his first Open Championship at the age of 17. His greenskeeper father, Tom (national treasure Peter Mullan, with an assist from his resplendent beard), is also another kind of patriarch: the father of modern golf itself, thanks to his many game and course innovations and his establishment of the very Open Championship his son would go on to dominate. Despite their mutual passion for the game, 'Old Tom' bristles at his son’s cockiness, specifically Tommy’s desire to be seen as equal to the gentlemen who stake him in professional games so they can profit from his wins. These men (including Sam Neill, wasted in a toothless role) deny Tommy his fair share of the spoils. When he protests, they spit silly invectives like, 'Your station in life was set before you were born, Morris.'
Tommy’s hotshot ways might raise hackles, but he seems to get what he wants without too much struggle. He’s a character that could have become downright obnoxious if not for the subtle charisma of newcomer Lowden (’71, the BBC’s War and Peace). Resembling a dashing version of Simon Pegg, the Borders native is in nearly every scene, variously sparring with his da’, wooing a local beauty with a scandalous past (Ophelia Lovibond), and taking on the aristocratic establishment with a righteous indignation born from youth. The film might drag along the journey to its tragic conclusion, but both Lowden and Mullan rescue it from becoming hopelessly mired in the rough.
Tommy's Honour opened Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016 http://edfilmfest.org.uk