Tommy’s Honour (2017) Roadside Attractions/Drama RT: 117 minutes Rated PG (thematic elements, some suggestive material, language) Director: Jason Connery Screenplay: Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook Music: Christian Henson Cinematography: Gary Shaw Release date: April 14, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA) Cast: Peter Mullan, Jack Lowden, Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill, Therese Bradley, Max Deacon, Kylie Hart, Brett Alan Hart, Neil Pendleton, Paul Tinto, Paul Reid, Benjamin Wainwright, Ian Pirie, John Walker Gray.
Some movies dealing with golf are made for everybody (e.g. Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore). Other golf-themed movies will only appeal to fans (e.g. Tin Cup, The Greatest Game Ever Played). The Legend of Bagger Vance defies classification and explanation. It isn’t likely that Tommy’s Honour, a new drama directed by Jason Connery (The Philly Kid), will find much of an audience beyond avid golfers. It tells the true story of Tom Morris Sr. and Jr. who are considered pioneers of the game. They didn’t invent the sport (it dates back to the 15th century) but they did revolutionize it. Long considered a pastime for the upper class, Young Tom opened the door for people of all classes to play. His talent for the game exceeded that of many of the snobby aristocrats for whom he served as caddy. In his short life (he died young), he won The Open four times in a row and became golf’s first touring professional. Despite this, he constantly told he’ll never be a “gentleman”.
Old Tom (Mullan, My Name Is Joe), greenkeeper for The Royal and Ancient Gold Club of St. Andrews as well as the town’s club and ball maker, plays a good game of golf but his son Young Tom (Lowden, ’71) is a natural. From a young age, he’s always had superior skills which made him an asset to the rich club members who often had the caddies play in their stead and bet money on them, giving them a very small share of the winnings (if they gave them anything at all). Like all young people in every generation, Young Tom doesn’t like the status quo and wants to change things as they relate to social class. He and his father, who urges him to know his role and not make waves, frequently clash over the older man’s servile attitude. Like all young people, Tom doesn’t listen to his father and frequently challenges the rules regarding social class. He also marries a older woman, Meg (Lovibond, Nowhere Boy), of a lower class with a questionable reputation.
Set in Scotland (the birthplace of golf) circa late 1860s/early 1870s, Tommy’s Honour is more of a history of golf movie than a sports flick. It’s also an indictment of the class system as seen through athletics, kind of like how class was filtered through competitive running in Chariots of Fire. It aims high and hits the mark albeit a bit off-center. It’s slow moving but fascinating nevertheless. At this point, I must admit to being somewhat biased. As one of Scottish descent, I’m always interested in movies set in Scotland be it modern times (Trainspotting) or some past era (Braveheart). The scenery is very nice. The production design also receives high marks; Tommy’s Honour looks authentic to its time period in terms of costumes, architecture and interiors. What really caught my attention is how the golf courses looked back then. They weren’t as immaculately maintained and perfectly laid out as they are now. They were pretty rough; it was easy to hit your ball into a pile of rocks or in a bramble patch. Also, there was no such thing as golf tees; instead, the caddy would place the ball atop a small mound of dirt. It’s details like this that kept me interested.
The drama in Tommy’s Honour is a bit less effective. It doesn’t pack the emotional punch it thinks it does but not for lack of trying on Connery’s part. BTW, he IS related to Sean, he is his son. I mention this because just like in the movie, Jason got his love of the game from his dad. Back to my original point, Tommy’s Honour has moments of sadness like the tragedy that occurs at home while Young Tom plays a crucial game against two champions from England. The stuff about Meg’s tainted reputation doesn’t come into play until late in the game and the only one it seems to matter to is Tommy’s mother (Bradley, Filth) who tries to end the relationship for how it will damage their social standing. I know that Tommy’s Honour is based on fact but this element of the movie feels like it’s added for dramatic enhancement. It’s still a good movie.
The performances by Mullan and Lowden are very good. Sam Neill is also great as the arrogant captain of the Golf Club, Young Tom’s main foe as he tries to get his foot in the door to a room where he’s not welcome. For me, it’s the historical aspect of Tommy’s Honour that seals the deal. I’m not a golfer (unless you count the occasional game of miniature golf) nor do I follow the game. I wasn’t impressed by Tiger Woods. For the record, Young Tom still holds the record for being the youngest Open winner (he won his first title at 17). Also, I’m probably the only male in my age group that doesn’t think Caddyshack is the greatest comedy of all time. I think it’s good, just not great. Even so, I like Tommy’s Honour very much. It tells a compelling story and gives a great lesson on the history of golf. Also (and most importantly), it’s Scottish so it’s not crap!*
*= Credit for that last statement goes to Mike Myers.