TOMMY’S HONOUR, about the beginnings of modern golf and the young man responsible for that, unfolds with the same stately grace of that game. It’s an admirable effort, rather than one that will get the adrenaline pumping, with fine performances, albeit ones that seem muted amid the prevailing decorum of 19th-century Britain.
It was a time when gentlemen played golf in red coats and silk hats, and their minions, who kept the greens, fashioned the golf balls, and carried the clubs for them, knew their place in the scheme of things. Until Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) that is, a likable lad set to inherit the job of greens keeper of the fabled St. Andrews course in Scotland from his father, Tom (Peter Mullan). Tommy dreams of something more than scraping by on the largesse of his betters, represented by the president of St. Andrews, Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill). Particularly with the custom of those betters hiring caddies for a pittance to compete against one another on the course, like so many race horses on a track, and winning large sums on the side bets they make with one another. Tom, in a revolutionary turn, decides that since he is doing the work, he should be pocketing the lion’s share. That he is acknowledged as the finest golfer in the world, and is being courted by and English promoter interested in turning golf into a spectator sport rather than a nobleman’s pastime, gives him the edge he needs to convince Boothby, whom he confronts not just with political rhetoric, but also with the temerity to use the man’s front door before doing so. It also puts him at odds with his father, who cannot abide his son upsetting the status quo.
Lowden is a remarkable blend of innocence and determination, giving Tommy’s budding romance with Meg Drinnan (Ophelia Lovibond), a local waitress a few years his elder, the quality of both blind folly and of unexpected nobility as he remains loyal to her despite Meg’s misgivings, and, worse, the disapproval of his pious mother. As a source of conflict, it becomes secondary to the ongoing troubles Tommy has with his cantankerous father. Mullan, one of the finest actors working today, rises above a character who is merely parochial in his views or controlling in his nature. The limitations, social and financial, that he seeks to impose upon his son, becomes an expression of deep love and concern, misguided but ultimately well-meaning. He is always the most arresting presence on screen, harboring dark undercurrents, and outshining even the formidable Neill as he lives up to his introduction in the first moments of the film, rising bewhiskered from the surf like a sea god.
TOMMY’S HONOUR is a rife with delightful facts about the invention of the golf bag, and proper use of the clubs. Fans of golf will find much to enjoy. Fans of character study will not be disappointed in the fine careful details of Scottish country life.