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'Tommy's Honour' knocks it stiff

With the possible exception of "Seagal vehicle," no two words foreshadow limited cinematic appeal more than "golf movie."

It's not that producers don't keep trying, and thank God for that or "Caddyshack" would have remained a National Lampoon–inspired hallucination and not the film that launched a hundred catch phrases, which is nice.

But the shanks are far more plentiful than the aces in this genre. So consider "Tommy's Honour" an unexpected surprise.

The film tells the story of Tom Morris and his son, Tom Jr., called Tommy. Though their connection to golf is now more than a century old, even casual golf fans have heard the names. Old Tom Morris is credited with being the father of golf and his name is brought up every July during The Open Championship in Great Britain, where some of the courses he designed remain in rotation. He was greenskeeper at St. Andrews, a golf cathedral, which also is the name of the town in Scotland where he was born.

Old Tom won The Open four times and at age 46, remains the oldest champion. Young Tom might have been an even better golfer than the old man, and in fact bested him by three strokes in the 1868 Open at the age of 17, an age record at the other end of the spectrum that still stands.

"I taught him everything he knows … but not everything I know," Old Tom says of his son in the film.

The Scottish accents are thick and make the film's first 20 minutes a struggle as you adapt. But that is a minor complaint. Worthy of praise are the performances by the film's two stars, Peter Mullan as Old Tom and Jack Lowden as his son. The attention to detail from director Jason Connery, son of the actor Sean, also is impressive, from the period clothing - How did they ever hit a ball in those outfits? - to the state of the legendary courses that bear only a passing resemblance to the courses of today.

But "Tommy's Honour" does not revolve around the sport as much as it revolves around the relationship between the two men and between them and proper British society that accepted them as golfers, but never as – Sniff – gentlemen.

Old Tom is satisfied making clubs and running courses, a life he wants for his son. Young Tom sees beyond the greens he plays on to the green that men are willing to pay to watch him compete, but he is not willing to abandon his father to do it.

Into this classic 19th century father-son relationship comes Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), a waitress who catches Young Tom's eye. She is wary of the slightly younger man. And when his mother finds out that she is not as pure as the sand in a Pebble Beach bunker, she tries to keep them apart.

Predictably, they end up together.

With Meg home and about to give birth to their first child, Young Tom and his father team up to play a match for 1,000 pounds. A telegram arrives telling Young Tom that his wife is about to give birth and to come home to St. Andrews, but Old Tom keeps it from him. Young Tom finds out and confronts his father.

"You were having a good game, Dad and you don't have many of them anymore," he says. "Golf is your god Dad. It's not mine."

It would be wrong to say more than the film does not have a happy ending. Then again, you don't have to go to a golf movie to know that golf and happiness rarely go hand in hand.


3 stars (Out of four)

“Tommy’s Honour”

Starring: Peter Mullan, Jack Lowden, Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill.

Director: Jason Connery

Running time: 117 minutes

Rated: PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, language and smoking.

The lowdown: A film about the relationship between two of golf’s legendary 19th century figures.


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