There isn’t much competition for the title of “the great golf movie,” so earnestly attempting that feat without Bob Barker, Bill Murray or a kneeling Tim Conway in sight is enough for ‘Tommy’s Honour’ to find itself in the running. It’s a passionately told and beautifully shot slice of romantic Scottish golf histrionics. Even if that won’t appeal to many viewers, those who recognize what Jason Connery lined up with his nine iron should appreciate the results.
The film is about two Tommys. There’s Old Tom (Peter Mullen), the man who founded the Open Championship and won a few of the early tournaments, but for whom professional golfing was but a dream. He spends most of his time tending to a course and giving out lessons to wealthy golf fanatics. Then there’s Young Tommy (Jack Lowden), the teenage son who quickly eclipses his father’s golfing stature and wins several tournaments. Tommy Jr. doesn’t believe in humbly accepting his place in the class structure. He wants a cut of all the money the gamblers make off his games and wants to live off the sport, not managing a course. Of course, the generations clash as do the classes. Given that the film exists, obviously Tommy proves to be able to overcome obstacles, even marrying a young woman (Ophelia Lovibond) who is considered a local disgrace for fornication out of wedlock. (The horror!) Everything seems to go well for Tommy until it doesn’t, because this is one of those movies where hankies are necessary.
‘Tommy’s Honour’ is a very handsomely mounted and extremely earnest sports bio-pic from director Jason “Son of Sean” Connery. While it stops short of the most obvious birth-to-death bio-pic structure, the film is very much cut out of a genre form. It’s fairly predictable once all the balls are in motion. When a wasted Sam Neill appears with mutton chops and top hat, we know he’ll be an upper crust jerk who thumbs his nose at the lower classes. We also know that the adversity he presents must be met with triumph! It’s rare that any big game or tournament appears on-screen doesn’t end with a dramatic win for Tommy despite hints otherwise. When Tommy’s mother calls his new bride “a fornicatrix” (great word), it’s only a matter of time before she’s welcomed into the family with open arms. The movie sets up obstacles that we’ve seen countless times before and then knocks them over like clockwork.
That said, within the strict formal limitations of the inspirational sports bio-pic, ‘Tommy’s Honour’ is quite well made. Jason Connery creates a vividly rainy and brooding Scottish world with stunning dour landscape shots and a bitter sense of humor quite true to the culture. Jack Lowden (currently 27-years-old) might seem too old to play teenage Tommy and too awkwardly mustached to play adult Tommy, but despite aesthetic challenges, he capably handles the dramatic growth of the film. Best of all is Peter Mullen, one of the great Scottish character actors whose downtrodden glances and sudden fits of rage are masterfully employed as a jealous and proud papa bear. Mullen often holds the whole melodramatic enterprise on his back and grounds the project almost single-handedly. Every piece of the ‘Tommy’s Honour’ puzzle beyond the script is so carefully crafted and performed that it overcomes most of the stilted dialogue, wonky structuring, and paint-by-numbers plotting. Mostly.
Whether or not the film is worth watching will entirely come down to individual opinion of this specific sports movie genre. If you’re easily distracted by manipulative writing and inevitable storytelling, this will be a rough ride (especially when the father and son argue about class with all the subtlety of a ‘Monty Python’ sketch). However, those willing or eager to accept the inspiring Scottish golf bio will find themselves quite moved by the drama and enveloped by the atmosphere. It’s not for everyone, but fortunately the fact that it’s about golf without an opportunity for wacky pop music montages should immediately limit the audience down to the intended viewers. It’s hard to imagine anyone interested in watching ‘Tommy’s Honour’ not getting something out of it, or anyone else even bothering to give it a shot.