Starring Jack Lowden, Peter Mullan, Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill
Historical films about golf haven’t been the most thrilling cinematic experiences. I remember my boredom with Shia Lebouf in The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) or worse Jim Caviezel in Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004). Fictional slapstick golf movies seem to fare better with general audiences. Tommy’s Honour is of the historical variety, in fact taking us back near the birthplace of the sport and the pioneer who created some of Europe’s very first and most distinguished courses. Director Jason Connery has four films under his belt, but Tommy’s Honour the first getting a semi respectable release. Like the golf stories before it, this one doesn’t have an immediacy to it, yet the performances from newcomer Lowden and seasoned veteran Mullan push the film beyond mediocrity.
1860’s Scotland and Thomas Mitchell Morris (Lowden) is widely credited as the father of The Open Championship. His redesigns of the faraway at St. Andrews, known as the home of golf, made him a renowned figure who began as a caddy and worked his way up to a greenkeeper. His legacy in the sport didn’t enter the history books until his son “Young Tom Morris” (Lowden) became an unprecedented Open Championship winner at age 17, winning four consecutive championships. The relationship between father and son was strained at times, and Young Tom struggled to advance the antiquated rules of the game with old gentlemen who see the two expert players as nothing but cogs in a betting wheel. The young champion also falls for an older woman which stirs quite the controversy in his little conservative town.
Performances from newcomer Lowden and seasoned veteran Mullan push the film beyond mediocrity
Tommy’s Honour tackles not only the early beginnings of golf, but class status and elitism. “Never think that putting on a gentleman’s suit makes you a gentleman,” Alexander Boothby (Neil) says to the young golfer. The Jurassic Park actor is thrown in a few scenes as the most recognizable actor (and likely the way the film was greenlit). His character does provide the closest thing the story has for an antagonist but more importantly a pivoting point for the way money is paid to the golfers. “You are a hero to this town, but a gentleman you will never be,” Boothby scorns. The British spelling of honor might look different in the title, but that’s another one of the films many themes.
The duality between father and son is the heart of the film, but so many distracting themes dilute the impact of their love, differences and comradery. Jack Lowden (who we will see more of in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk) surprisingly carries this film well. His character changes the most over the course of the story. What first looks like a film exploring how fame and success effects a sportsman of the late 1800’s just as it does today, rapidly gives way to greater depth. There is a fantastic scene between Tommy’s mother and his wife Margaret (Lovibond), their “come to Jesus” moment provides some excitement when the narrative really needs it. While many of the script’s scenes feel trite and the story not overly engaging, the tragic circumstances of these two men’s lives leaves you with a better impression than you expect.
Golf enthusiasts will find this story more intriguing than mainstream audiences, but Lowden’s performance is universally appealing.