Directed by Jason Connery. Starring Peter Mullan, Jack Lowden, Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill, Max Deacon, Kylie Hart. (2017, PG-13, 117 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 14, 2017
Strictly for lovers of the sport of golf who also happen to be interested in the germinal history of the modern game, Tommy’s Honour has zero chance of finding anyone else to tee off on its cinematic greens. This film tells a story about Old Tom Morris (Mullan), the greenskeeper at St. Andrews who’s responsible for establishing many of the game’s standards as well as making the golf club’s balls and irons, and his son Tommy Morris (Lowden), a wiz whose golf skills outshine his father’s to eventually become one of the first touring golfers who helped popularize the sport. These two are locked in a father/son battle about class and propriety, a struggle that is as ancient as it is predictable. As a biopic (based on a book by Kevin Cook), this is dull material, and as a sports film, Tommy’s Honour does little to enliven the action or competitive tension.
Even though Tom Sr. is called the “grand old man of golf,” the rigid class divisions of Victorian-era Scotland keep him in his place, servicing the gentlemen of the golf club. He designs and maintains their golf courses, and caddies their games, despite the fact that he has twice won the club’s Open Championship. “A caddy’s son you are and a caddy’s son you’ll be,” he tells Tommy Jr., who wants to strike out on his own and be a professional golfer rather than a caddy. Junior outranks the old man by winning the Open three years in row while still in his teens during the 1860s. Tommy eventually marries Meg (Lovibond), a woman older than he who also harbors a secret, and the young man moves to England and begins pursuing his dream.
Seeing what St. Andrews’ greens must have looked like in their native days before all golf courses became zealously manicured is refreshing. The film’s action, however, is rarely filmed in a way that highlights the action, and the story’s biographical elements lack dimension and drama. Those Scottish accents, too, provide occasional challenges to American ears. Tommy’s Honour hits a bunker early on and, in the end, never sinks the putt. Game over.