AND WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER?
When Arthur Morrison (Jim Broadbent) is diagnosed with terminal cancer he has only a few weeks left to live. His son Blake (Colin Firth) travels to Yorkshire to stay with his mother Kim (Juliet Stevenson) in the village where he grew up. He visits his father at the hospital where he had spent so much time with his own patients as a GP. As his father's condition worsens, Morrison contemplates their shared experiences, the intimacies and the irritations of their relationship. After his father's death Morrison regrets the nature of their relationship and their failure to understand each other.
Review by Louise Keller:
Jim Broadbent is wonderful in this screen adaptation of Blake Morrison's memoir about the life and times of his father to whom he pays tribute. He plays the father who could talk his way in and out of anything, seeming to be infallible, invincible and immortal. Colin Firth too, has great presence as the troubled son coming to terms with the love/hate relationship he had with his larger-than-life father. Grief, however, is difficult to portray without being morbid, and despite valiant efforts to follow in the footsteps of Big Fish, which swept us away with uplifting reminiscences and amusing anecdotes, this drama struggles to find its equilibrium.
The eyes through which we meet Jim Broadbent's gregarious Arthur change. Firstly they are the eyes of a youngster, who in part is fascinated by his extraverted father who everybody apparently loves. There's the mystery of his relationship with the ebullient Auntie Beaty (Sarah Lancashire) and the curiosity it causes for a lifetime. Embarrassment is coupled with resentment as Arthur pushes Blake out of his comfort zone and makes his adolescence a confronting one. He calls him 'fathead', makes his introductions to girls rather obvious and makes him feel clumsy. But there are joyous moments too, like the time he learns to drive by the sea. But throughout his younger days, we get a sense that Blake is an overtly serious child and a totally different personality to his fun-loving father. He is more empathetic with his badly done mother (Juliet Stevenson), who watches on the sidelines as Arthur plays Galahad to not only Beattie but a bevy of attractive females. The undercurrent throughout is of feelings of inferiority and disappointment - from both points of view, and when Firth's Blake is confronted by a terminally ill parent, he understandably goes through tempestuous emotions.
Director Anand Tucker handles the subject matter with respect and effectively makes use of mirrors to convey two personas for Blake. It is for us to assume what they are, although we can safely assume they comprise the man that Blake has become today as well as the child of yesterday. Parts of the film work better than others - the scenes in which Blake and his mother have to deal with the harsh facts of illness are pretty difficult to watch. The English countryside of West Sussex and Derbyshire are beautifully picturesque, and it is an engaging, if somewhat melancholy journey as we venture with Blake into the recollections of his past.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Blake Morrison's pain is invasive and all-embracing as recounted in his book and repeated in this adaptation, which is a wake and a weep for a father lost to male failures of communication. Told through fragments of memories juxtaposed with the decaying days of Arthur Morrison's (Jim Broadbent) life, the film captures the pain and the frustration and offers the audience nothing else. It may well serve as comfort to men in a similar position, who perhaps should have it prescribed as therapy. For the rest of us, it's a claustrophobic experience in which we spend half the time admiring the acting and the other half wishing it would be over.
With an inordinate amount of the film visualised through reflections in mirrors and other glass, our attention starts to gravitate to those shots as a distraction, exploring the placing of the mirrors or the nature of the reflection. This isn't a good thing. It undermines the validity of the topic and the sincerity of the cast.
Jim Broadbent does a marvellous job in both technique and artistry, and Colin Firth comes close to throwing off that mostly silent interior persona that haunts his roles, as he struggles with the results of a childhood under the shadow of a father who couldn't quite make the connection a father should. The irony is like a roaring waterfall: Arthur can talk his way in and out of anything, except his son's heart.
But it's up to young actor Matthew Beard to bear the full brunt of that incomplete fathering as the teenage Blake, internalising the pain, agonising over his sense of guilt and outrage about his father, getting himself totally mucked up in the process. The grown up Blake is scarred and damaged as a result. The grey subject matter is emphasised by Barrington Pheloung's score, peppered with redundant, sombre, soul crunching cues.
I would feel more positive towards the film if I had gained some new insight or understanding about father/son relationships. The final, bitter tears of Arthur's son are testament to the yearning for something these men never had. That much I understand; it's just not enough.
Email this article
AND WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER? (M)
CAST: Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Juliet Stevenson, Gina McKee, Sarah Lancashire, Elaine Cassidy, Claire Skinner, Matthew Beard, Bradley Johnson, Tom Butcher, Tara Berwin
PRODUCER: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley
DIRECTOR: Anand Tucker
SCRIPT: David Nicholls (book by Blake Morrison)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Howard Atherton
EDITOR: Trevor Waite
MUSIC: Barrington Pheloung
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alice Normington
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 31, 2008