Tommy’s Honour (Roadside Attractions, PG)

All the acting performances are strong in Tommy’s Honour, and the period elements are solid, as well.

Thomas Mitchell Morris (“Old Tom”) and his son Tommy Morris (“Young Tom”) played key roles in creating the modern game of golf. Their lives are chronicled in Jason Connery’s Tommy’s Honour, a film that will be catnip to the golfing set but will also interest people who have no particular connection with the sport. Speaking personally, I have no interest in golf (and, given its association with our current president, am unlikely to develop such an interest any time soon), but found much to admire in this film’s use of golf as a device to analyze family and societal conflicts in 19th-century Scotland.

Old Tom (Peter Mullan) is the greenskeeper at St. Andrews Links, one of the oldest courses in the world, and has also designed over 70 golf courses, in the process developing many of the conventions of modern courses; he’s also credited with establishing 18 holes as the standard for a round of golf. When he was younger, Old Tom competed as a golfer, winning the Open Championships (“the British Open” to Americans) four times. For all that, he is still considered the social inferior of the club members, for whom he often caddies.

Young Tom (Jack Lowden) has been raised to follow in his father’s footsteps as caddy and greenskeeper, but has his sight set on bigger fish. Unwilling to accept the class distinctions of contemporary Scottish society, he is disinclined to consider himself inferior to the “gentlemen” members of the club, and sees golf as a venue in which all can compete as equals. This puts him in conflict not only with his father, but also with the red-coated Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill) and many of the other club members, for whom the established social pecking order seems as natural an aspect of life as the sun shining or the rain falling.

Winning is the best revenge, of course, and Young Tom achieves that in spades. He wins his first Open Championship at age 17, a record that has never been beaten, and proceeds to win the next three titles in a row—another record not yet beaten. Young Tom also helps put golf on a more professional basis, organizing matches that draw thousands of spectators and providing purses for the winners, rather than leaving them dependent on tips from the gentlemen who bet on the matches.

Tommy is also a rebel in his personal life. When he spots Meg (Ophelia Lovibond) working in a café, he decides she is the woman for him. Nothing will change his mind, not even her revelation that she is five years older than him, or his mother’s (Theresa Bradley) scandalized declaration that Meg is unworthy because she is a “fornicator” (Meg previously had a child who died in infancy).

All the acting performances are strong in Tommy’s Honour, and the period elements are solid, as well. The straightforward screenplay by Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook is based on Cook’s nonfiction book about the two Morrises, and Connery’s unfussy direction communicates respect for the admirable aspects of the contemporary society while also pointing out its flaws. There are humorous moments in Tommy’s Honour along with some pathos, and the result is a nicely balanced film that will please a broad range of viewers. | Sarah Boslaugh

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