Tony Webster's tiny vintage camera store isn't very deep. And it's nothing if not narrow. It looks to be, at most, 20 feet from side to side.
In "The Sense of an Ending," that's about how narrow his life has become in late middle age, too. He sells and repairs cameras in his store -- mostly vintage Leicas. We find out early on that it was a Leica camera that a beautiful young woman named Veronica was fiddling with in a backyard when a young Tony -- not a particularly expert mixer at parties -- wandered away from the whooping and hollering.
"The Sense of an Ending" is the story of Tony and Veronica at two different stages of life, as young students and then in maturity, where they are played by Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling, two of the greatest film actors the Brits have.
Right there, though, if you suspect trouble with the film you won't be wrong. Because of their cinematic pasts, the two actors are an odd mismatch. That isn't director Ritesh Batra's fault. He has already given us a sublime and exquisite film called "The Lunchbox."
But Broadbent is a great British actor for roles requiring slyness, heartiness, bluster and solidity -- almost everything but secret dimensions. Because of her cinematic history, Charlotte Rampling carries with her almost nothing but secrets, especially sexual.
Rampling doesn't appear until later in the film but as soon as she does, you know something's up. Or off. One or the other. You'll soon find out which.
The plot begins when Tony is told he has been left a bequest in the will of Veronica's mother, a vibrant, flirtatious woman whose sexuality Tony can't help registering as a young man. She's played by Emily Mortimer.
When they were of school age and not long after, he remembers his first overnight visit to Veronica's house. At the family lunch, there is talk of favorite poets. Tony says his is Dylan Thomas. Veronica's father says Philip Larkin, the poet laureate of plainness, narrowness and diminished prospects in Britain and throughout the empire.
The scene might as well have offered up Tony's young male sexuality to his girlfriend's mother right then and there.
But no, this is from a Julian Barnes novel so a lot more is going on. As a mature man, Tony has been left an odd bequest by that mother -- the diary of a brilliant school friend who came to a tragic end.
The trouble is that the bequest is now in the possession of the mature Veronica and she is, to put it mildly, not forthcoming. She and Tony lost contact decades ago. In the meantime, he has married and divorced. He now has an ex, with whom he's on excellent terms, and a very pregnant grown daughter who's about to deliver any second but without a life partner.
So ever-practical Tony fills in at Lamaze classes.
Broadbent, the actor, fits in very well in a universe where cameras are repaired in tiny shops and people's favorite poets are Philip Larkin. Rampling? Dylan Thomas? Hold on to your seats.
Something is going to have to give before the audience gets "the sense of an ending." And so it does. Our hero Tony finds that nothing important he thought was true about his life really was.
He also discovers that in his volatile Dylan Thomas life phase, his own youth was far more consequential than he thought.
It is, at this point, that the big "reveal" in the movie resides. For a movie where so many things are off to the side smoldering, forgiveness -- including self-forgiveness -- seems weirdly instant, and smothering and inconsequential.
There is a whole other story we need to be told in this movie than what we've seen in flashback.
We learn it suddenly and obliquely and with the impact of a ruefully ironic Larkin poem, where passions are no good reason to interrupt the witty drabness of it all.
We should have been rocked at the end.
We're not. Somehow, when we can see, in retrospect, everything we needed to be told, it all seems as if everyone's lives are that much more narrow.
No more than 20 feet, at most, from side to side.
"The Sense of an Ending"
Three out of four stars.
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Emily Mortimer, Harriet Walter
Director: Ritesh Batra
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, very brief violence and sex and language
The lowdown: An emotionally stunted man is given a mysterious bequest in a will and becomes haunted by his own past.