Movie Review – And When Did You Last See Your Father?
– Summary –
Director : Anand Tucker
Cast : Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Juliet Stevenson, Matthew Beard, Gina McKee, Claire Skinner, Sarah Lancashire, Elaine Cassidy, Carey Mulligan.
Year Of Release : 2007
Length : 92 Minutes
Synopsis: Blake returns home to be at his fathers side during his death from inoperable bowel cancer. Blake remembers his childhood, interspersed through his current events, of his relationship with his father, and of his fathers infidelities throughout his teenage years.
Review : Memorable, dramatic family drama, with a superb Broadbent in fantastic form, and Colin Firth providing solid backup as the son who wishes he had more time with his father. Entire cast is pitch perfect in a layered, rich story about infidelity, betrayal, and the fact that no matter what, you simply can’t choose your family.
Well made British film about loss, betrayal, and the fact that we never seem to get enough time to say what we really mean. With a ponderous title putting many viewers off, this film is most certainly worthy of your time if you enjoy serious, dramatic films with a great cast going about things in the usual professional way. Jim Broadbent again proves his class in the role of an irascible (always wanted to use that word in a review) old man with more than a few skeletons in his closet.
Colin Firth and Broadbent headline this great dramatic film, about a family patriarch named Arthur, (Broadbent) who develops incurable bowel cancer, and returns home to die. His son, Blake (Firth) also returns home, to be at his fathers side when the time comes. The friction between Blake and his father is immediately evident, however it’s not quite clear as to the source. This, in essence, is the crux of the film. As we get glimpses into the past, when Blake was younger, we see the development of his perceptions of his father as he grows: his father seems more intent on an illicit affair with Blakes aunt, than on any true moral fortitude. Due to this, and his mothers apparent refusal to acknowledge these events, Blake becomes more and more resentful of his father, until they almost become estranged.
Throw in Blake’s first love (their housekeeper, a young Scottish lass named Sandra (Elaine Cassidy) to keep the home fires and teen angst burning) and his somewhat morose and introspective mother (a glorious Juliet Stevenson), and you have a story that has plenty of dramatic twists and turns to keep the story moving. Blake’s crush on Sandra is a pivotal moment in the film, since his moral compass is perhaps a little skewed by his fathers own philandering behaviour: yet, the subject isn’t expanded upon perhaps as much as I would have liked. This side story, as their innocent romance blossoms (although she’s not that innocent, I suspect), perfectly parallels the lapse in Arthurs monogamous feelings. Arthur seems to find joy in flirting, and obviously doing a lot more, with almost every pretty girl he sees, much to Blake’s disgust and his mothers increasingly desperate withdrawal emotionally. Blake’s emotional impotence at being unable to confront his father is perhaps the films largest story point: and it’s this that Firth and Broadbent play upon so very well.
Colin Firth is a fine actor, although I suspect his true range as a performer has yet to be fully tapped. Here, in this badly named film, we see glimpses of an ability to capture the viewer in a complex, dynamic performance, that teeters on profound. And yet it is not quite so, for the script seems to relegate his role (in the “present day”) to merely sitting, wistfully anguished, waiting for the opportunity to finally berate his father for being such a cad. The same cannot be said for the young actor playing Blake as a young man, Matthew Beard. A great turn he produces, filled with the wide-eyed innocence and lusty teenager hormonally imbalanced the character needed. Beard is wonderful, and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more from him in future efforts. His portrayal of a young man, seeing his fathers most indiscreet liaisons with his Aunt, who may or may not have born an illigitimate daughter from the union, is palpably filled with raw emotion, an underlying hatred and desire to rectify what he sees as the man’s moral failings… and yet he cannot, hamstrung by the constant belittling of his efforts by Arthur, who may mean well, but isn’t good at displaying it. Theres a potent chemistry at work between Broadbent’s morally wayward Arthur, and Beard’s piercing, rock solid Blake, that forms the centrepiece of the films narrative. I found it a true joy to watch.
But for me, the key performance of the film is the singularly delightful (if you can call a philandering bastard a delightful character) role played by Broadbent. He perfectly encapsulates the role of Blakes father, a man who is either rotten to the core and treats his wife like dirt, or simply a confused, somewhat distant individual who has trouble expressing real emotions to those closest to him. It’s a dynamic role for Broadbent, who played a similarly beautiful part in the oft neglected Iris, with Judi Dench. Broadbent’s ability to morph himself into these characters, to literally become the very soul of another person via the screen, is amazing, and to his credit, he never seems to steal the limelight or focus from his fellow cast members. It’s not a blistering Al Pacino-style performance, all bluster and belligerent buffoonery, but rather a more complex, slightly mysterious role from one of the screens most underrated actors. Without his being a complete bastard in this film, the narrative might very well have fallen in heap. As it is, the man’s complexity, and the wonderful vision of director Anand Tucker, help us to find a sense of the soul, the very heart of both Blake and Arthur, in what does become a genuinely poignant story about loss and love.
Tucker directs the film in a fairly straightforward way, with little time for clever cinematic trickery or overblown editorial histrionics. It’s a solid job, layering the story with flashbacks and more flashbacks, seemingly random moments in Blake’s life that slowly, slowly, become a disjointed, then complex, whole. We see Blake as an adult, as a teen, and as a young boy, who first discovers his father’s secret when he falls from a tree and arrives back at the family picnic to find his father and aunt in the car…. well, you can guess the rest. The film doesn’t rely on cheap cinematic whoring of itself to get you interested: you have to work the old grey matter in order to fully appreciate this story. And while it may seem a little morbid to be dwelling over a man’s feelings of inadequacy throughout his childhood while dealing with his father, by the end of the film, the tissues will need to be pulled out and used. It’s a weeper.
While the title of the film, and it has to be said, it is a shocker, will put a lot of people off seeing it, I can say without question that it’s a genuinely good movie, a well made, well acted drama in the finest mould of British cinema. It may have those seeking more robust cinematic adventure reaching for Tropic Thunder, however, if you’re in the mood for a film that will move you, make you think, and entertain you in a way that doesn’t include gratuitous nudity or sex, then this film might just be the one for you. It’s certainly worth a look, I can say that.
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