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Historical drama 'Tommy's Honour' examines one of golf's early heroes

POSTED: April 15, 2017 12:01 a.m.
Josh Terry/

Sam Neill in “Tommy's Honour.”

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"TOMMY'S HONOUR" — 2 stars — Ophelia Lovibond, Sam Neill, Peter Ferdinando, Peter Mullan; PG (thematic elements, some suggestive material, language and smoking); in general release

"Tommy's Honour" has a few things in common with its subject matter. It's a movie about golf that isn't in a rush, taking its time and leaving its tension for particular moments. For fans of the sport, this might not be such a bad thing, but outsiders may find director Jason Connery's effort a little dull.

The title character is Tommy Morris, a famous 19th-century golfer in Scotland. His father, Tom, is considered one of the founding fathers of the sport, and "Tommy's Honour" explores their relationship as Tommy rises to prominence in a sport steeped in social division.

Tom (Peter Mullan) is the greens keeper of one of Scotland's most popular courses, and has built considerable notoriety for his expert craftsmanship in making clubs, balls and even designing entire courses. But socially, he's still considered a caddy, separate from the club member gentleman class, and so when his son Tommy (Jack Lowden) shows aspirations to be a professional golfer, the prevailing culture tries to keep him in his place.

Unfortunately for that culture, Tommy is such a good golfer that he creates enough leverage to take on the system. Rather than accept the financial pittance his social superiors grant him, Tommy demands — and then takes — control of his own earnings, echoing a process that has played out in various professional sports in the time since.

His life isn't all golf, though. Just as he's coming into his own, Tommy meets a local waitress named Meg (Ophelia Lovibond) and falls in love, even though she's several years older than him and carries a bit of a reputation around town.

This controversial relationship provides additional tension with his parents, who seem as opposed to his social climbing as the stuffy gentlemen in the clubhouse, who are led by Sam Neill in a small supporting role. The tension between Tommy and his father, in fact, seems to drive the whole film, and even while “Tommy’s Honour” presents itself as a feel-good underdog tale, it is really a film about fathers and sons.

Dynamic scenes with Mullan and Lovibond give Lowden his best opportunities to shine — and Lovibond has a memorable showdown with her character’s reluctant mother-in-law — and “Tommy’s Honour” could benefit from more of them.

The personal relationships form the heart and soul of a film that otherwise pales next to the most celebrated sports films. We see Tommy Jr. compete in various tournaments, but the tension of winning and losing frequently takes a backseat to the time capsule effect that is created by watching the playing conditions of the 19th century. Compared to the highly coiffed rolling green courses of today, the Scottish founding fathers of golf appear to be knocking around balls on random hillsides, through weeds and over rocky stretches, at one point even playing in a snowstorm.

At another point, we see fistfights break out on the course, and the general atmosphere of jeering and trash talking represents one of the more colorful aspects of the film. Along with the more dramatic elements of Tommy Jr.'s personal life, "Tommy's Honour" puts together enough highlights to justify a peek, but too often, Connery's effort feels a little too easy to pass over.

"Tommy's Honour" is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, language and smoking; running time: 117 minutes.

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