Sports films can become a dicey proposition when they rely on the alleged “suspense” generated by staged athletic competitions as narrative engines. But although “Tommy’s Honour” has clearly been made by a golf obsessive who loves the links, it’s the rare sports biography that keeps its eye on the ball of character and milieu.
Directed by Jason Connery, “Tommy’s Honour” is the story of the Morris clan, the illustrious father-son team who reconfigured primitive Scottish golf into the international sport we know today.
Morris Sr. (played with expressive dignity by Peter Mullan) is a groundskeeper and golf pro in Victorian Scotland, whose declining athletic ability is more than offset by his visionary golf course design ideas. Morris Jr. (a suitably brash and agile Jack Lowden, “Denial”) is something else again: a once-in-a-century athletic natural, and a man whose ingrained prowess will prove literally game-changing for golf.
Director Jason Connery is himself the son of an outsized Scotsman, golf advocate and James Bond star Sean Connery, making it tempting to read a lot of TMZ Freudianism into the loving but fractious father-son dynamic at the heart of “Tommy’s Honour.” But whatever the source is for Jason Connery’s skill in dramatizing paternal friction, the film’s central concept is a universal one: that we tear hardest at inextricable bonds, because we know they won’t break. Morris Jr.’s last words to his father are “I forgive you.” What child or parent can’t relate to that?
Equally compelling is Connery’s grim depiction of the Victorian era’s remorseless caste system. To be a 19th century “golf pro” was to wear a working man’s badge of shame; the “pro” performed for money as a poorly paid adjunct, working for a club he could not join, while the leisure class lent him its colors and made a killing with wagers on the side. If “Tommy’s Honour” is to be believed, Morris Jr. fought and undermined what amounted to an indentured servitude racket, just as he fought his father’s loving but crimped vision of the life he should lead.
There’s the shade of a darker story inside “Tommy’s Honour,” a cautionary tale about the hazards of celebrity, with Morris Jr. succumbing to the temptations of his growing status as “best in the game.” But although young Connery doubtless has strong opinions on fame, he’s chosen to limit the shadows cast by his film’s far brighter vision of filial light. The result is a movie you can take your dad to.
Seeing this film must have made Sean Connery proud.