Hot Take: Earns a golf clap.
If there were a Mount Rushmore of golf movies, three spots would have to be reserved for Caddyshack, Tin Cup and Happy Gilmore. As for the fourth spot, a friendly 19th hole argument could be made for a handful of flicks. In a few years, once Tommy’s Honour makes the rounds, it wouldn’t be surprising for someone to tee this one up as a possible deserving candidate to complete the foursome.
Now don’t take that to mean Tommy’s Honour is a great movie. It’s not. However, the story of “Old” Tom Morris and his son “Young” Tom Morris set in 19th century Scotland during the early days of golf, is likely a story you haven’t heard and a compelling enough biopic that makes for a decent viewing experience. Director Jason Connery (son of Sean Connery) does an excellent job of marrying the melodrama of a strained but loving father/son relationship, the lush landscapes of Scotland, the unwritten rules of social class and some serviceable golf scenes.
In one of the lead roles, Peter Mullan plays “Old” Tom, a golf pioneer who is the greens-keeper at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. He’s also the town’s club and ball maker and a two time winner of The Open Championship which he founded in 1860. In the other lead role is Jack Lowden (with an uncanny resemblance to Simon Pegg) who plays “Young” Tom, son of “Old” Tom and an impressive golfer in his own right. Actually, “Young” Tom appears to be more skilled than his father and filled with ambition and thoughts of more than just stepping into his father’s footsteps as the greens-keeper of St. Andrews especially after becoming the youngest to win The Open Championship at age 17 and then becoming the first to win the tournament 3 consecutive times.
The cocky and brash younger Tom continually clashes with his father over the history and rules of the game and society. While “Old” Tom expects his son to fall in line, “Young” Tom makes waves against the established order of things. “Young” Tom and “Old” Tom battle on mostly everything from Tommy’s refusal to caddy for Captain Boothby (Sam Neill), his challenging of the financial “arrangement” he has with the men who profit from Tommy’s winning ways and even over his choice of women to court as Tommy falls in love with Meg Drinnen (Ophelia Lovibond), a woman of lower social standing who has a scandalous secret in her past.
Based on an Award-winning 2007 book, Tommy’s Honour: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son, the movie feels very much like a novel adaptation. Occasionally, maybe too much as there are a few scenes which drag along. However, the movie sinks enough birdies to overcome the occasional bogey. It’s a functional biopic that is unlikely to be on a Top 10 list but even the most discerning viewer would have a hard time finding it close to adequate. The story finds its rhythm in the father/son relationship played out adeptly by Mullan and Lowden and never gets too caught up in the golf which is often a crutch sports films lean on for its drama. Don’t worry, there are enough golf scenes for the traditional sports movie fan, too, but Connery never relies on them to deliver the more dramatic scenes. That’s a differentiator for the film and helps cast a wider net to capture a different audience and it does so without alienating the film’s built in core.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- 19th Century Authenticity
Essentially a period piece, the film has the look and feel of the 19th century. The golf isn’t on lush, perfectly manicured fairways and greens but a more grown in landscape far more representative of the time period.
- The Dawn of Golf’s Innovations Subtly Slipped In
All sports evolve and you see golf’s innovations in the periphery of the story of the game’s founding father and son. In some cases, like Tommy showing off a backspin to his friends, it is blatant. In others, like grooves on the clubs, it is much more subtle.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Slower Than Your Typical Sports Movie
If there weren’t so many golf scenes, you wouldn’t realize this was a sports movie. The pacing isn’t slow for a biopic but it has an off-putting aura since this biopic happens to be a sports flick, too.