OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“Tommy’s Honour” is a 2016 Scottish film directed by Jason Connery. The film is a historical drama about the father-son pair of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, portrayed by Peter Mullan and Jack Lowden, respectively. Widely renowned as the grandfather of golf, Old Tom was the greenskeeper at St. Andrews golf links in Scotland for most of the 19th century and was instrumental in starting The Open Championship. In fact, Old Tom Morris struck the first shot in the first ever Open in 1860. Furthermore, Old Tom and his namesake were dominant golfers for their time. A quick glance over the earliest winners of the Open Championship reveals the supremacy of the Morris clan. Of the first eight Open Championships, Old Tom Morris won four with his final victory coming in 1867. Subsequently Young Tom Morris took over, winning the next four consecutive Opens . “Tommy’s Honour” focuses on the period in which Young Tom took over as the preeminent golfer between the duo.
The game of golf played in “Tommy’s Honour” does not much resemble the modern variation. The greens look more like the second cut of rough and the shoddily crafted balls are propped up on little piles of sand instead of wooden tees. “Tommy’s Honour” depicts the game in its infancy. A typical player in the film also doesn’t quite fit the modern mold. With the exception of a few Scottish and English elites, the game is played by gruff, heavy-drinking, fighting men of the lower classes. And the very best players, like Tom Morris the elder and younger, are plucked by the wealthy club members to compete in matches for the sake of big betting. It is in this context of early golf that “Tommy’s Honour” works best as a film. The stark backdrop of St. Andrews provides several scenes that are both beautiful, and serviceable to the golf action. On a grander scale, “Tommy’s Honour” performs strongly as a period piece. The film feels securely authentic with remarkable costumes and swaths of accent-heavy dialogue. For non-Scots, subtitles may be necessary.
However, despite the success of “Tommy’s Honour” in these distinct areas, the film flounders with a generic, often gimmicky plot and choppy momentum. Over the course of the film Young Tom “invents” backspin, grooved wedges, and the golf bag. With each invention there is an eye-roll worthy presentation that bogs down the pace and smudges the historical accuracy of the film. And while golf is certainly the focus of “Tommy’s Honour”, there are a few token subplots headlined by a romance between Young Tom and a woman named Margaret (Ophelia Lovibond) as well as a class-struggle theme involving the Captain of St. Andrews Golf Club, Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill). Neither storyline proves too memorable, even though Margaret ends up having a key role in the ending of the film.
Perhaps the most identifiable flaw underpinning “Tommy’s Honour” is the slapdash cutting style from scene to scene. The most blatant examples occur when the story transitions from a golf-action scene to a domestic one, and vice versa. In one sequence we are thrown into the tail end of a random golf match in which Young Tom sinks a winning putt without any lead up or explanation. Near the end of the film one of the characters is portrayed as falling into alcoholism, which is depicted in scenes of him drinking in three different locations consecutively without any dialogue. These transitions are disorientating and quite frankly bizarre.
Ultimately for those who love the history of golf, “Tommy’s Honour” could be an entertaining trip back in time. However, for the average viewer the film falls short. A film with so many solid pieces shouldn’t have the overall feel of a straight-to-DVD feature.