The sports biopic “Tommy’s Honour” tells the story of 19th-century Scottish golfer Tom Morris Jr. – Tommy, or Young Tom, as he was known, to distinguish him from his father, Old Tom Morris. It’s a mildly stirring and quietly tragic tale, capably told by director Jason Connery (Sean’s son), from a screenplay by journalist-turned-screenwriter Pamela Marin and sports writer Kevin Cook, based on Cook’s award-winning 2007 book of the same name.
With a strong cast that includes Peter Mullan as the stodgy Old Tom, Jack Lowden as his brash, ambitious son and Sam Neill as the snooty head of the St. Andrews golf club, where Old Tom was head greenskeeper and caddie, the film will hold an inherent appeal for the hardcore golf-history buff. Whether there’s enough crossover interest in the story - which involves father-son clashes, a scandalous romance, class conflict and white-knuckle links drama - is dubious.
The main plot dynamic of “Tommy’s Honour” is a familial one. Old Tom, despite being an innovator in course, club and ball design, as well as a champion player, knows his lowly station in the clubby, aristocratic world of golf, while the teenage Tommy – the Tiger Woods of his day – chafes at playing for a small fraction of the money that the sport’s wealthy backers routinely make by betting on him. “A caddie’s son you are, and a caddie you’ll be,” Old Tom tells his son, when the young man announces his plans to democratize the game.
That interpersonal tension forms the spine of the film, which charts Tommy’s ascendancy in the sport, and the gradual decline of his father’s influence. Along the way, there are tidbits thrown in about the Morrises’ advancements in the design of equipment and fairways, along with the requisite scenes of Tommy’s nail-biter golf wins. A subplot focuses on the love story between Tommy and his future wife, Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), a scullery maid with something of a tawdry past.
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If Connery presents this all-too-familiar material in a sometimes plodding, by-the-book way, the filmmaker’s experience as an actor lends nuance to his direction of the cast members, all of whom deliver solid, grounded performances.
There’s a subdued quality to watching golf as a spectator sport, and that same quality of reserved detachment applies to this golf movie. “Tommy’s Honour” is never boring, but at best it invites a smattering of polite applause, not an upturned barrel of Gatorade.
Cast: Jack Lowden, Peter Mullan, Sam Neill, Ophelia Lovibond
Director: Jason Connery
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: PG (brief coarse language, mature thematic material, some suggestive dialogue and smoking)
Raleigh: North Hills. Chapel Hill: Chelsea. Durham: AMC 15.