The Sense of an Ending

 

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A very English drama in which the past influences the present.

 
Sense of an Ending, The 

Jim Broadbent

 

Ritesh Batra, the Indian director known to us for The Lunchbox (2013), seems an odd choice to direct this   work because it is so quintessentially English. However, given that Nick Payne who provided the screenplay based on Julian Barnes' novel is British and given too the hand-picked cast, the result is a film in which the tone seems exactly right. Less happily, the resolution of the story, even if true to the book (which I have not read), struck me as considerably less persuasive.

 

Starting in the present day, the film introduces us to Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) who, being divorced from his wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), lives alone and runs a small camera shop. He may do his duty by his lesbian daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), who has opted to become a mother, but even so he is decidedly introvert and withdrawn. However, a significant change in his life is about to occur, one prompted by the arrival of an unexpected letter bringing news of a legacy. This brings back memories of his young first love, Veronica (Freya Mavor), but it appears that the adult Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) is withholding a diary referred to in the letter which, on enquiry, proves to be one that had belonged to a friend from his schooldays, Adrian (Joe Alwyn from Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk).

 

As the story proceeds, flashbacks reveal to us the tortured love of the young Tony (Billy Howle) leading to events that he would now like to forget. Nevertheless, the greater part of the tale relates to the present and tells of what is set in motion by the solicitor's letter. There is an echo here of Andrew Haigh's 45 Years (2015) and for much of the time these two films share a persuasive grasp of English understatement and bottled-up emotions. That applies here not only to Broadbent's wholly convincing portrait of the curmudgeonly Tony but to the flashback scenes including a weekend visit during which young Tony is introduced to Veronica's parents and feels in their environment like a fish out of water. Indeed, even if Broadbent's performance is central, the players in the flashbacks are also on fine form.

 

But, ultimately and surprisingly, The Sense of an Ending turns into a variation on A Christmas Carol with Tony as the Scrooge figure who, despite emerging in increasingly unpleasant colours, will eventually realise the errors of his ways and end up transformed. If the turn of events doesn't quite seem to justify this, worse still is a late scene featuring Tony and a postman who has also been seen earlier. Their further encounter may be brief but it is a moment handled in such a way that cliché meets banality. That's the worst of it, but the best extends to more than two-thirds of the movie. It's just a pity that after so much good work the film should ultimately lack conviction.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Charlotte Rampling, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, James Wilby, Edward Holcroft, Peter Wight, Hilton McRae, Jack Loxton, Nick Mohammed, David Horovitch.

 

Dir Ritesh Batra, Pro David M. Thompson and Ed Rubin, Screenplay Nick Payne, from the novel by Julian Barnes, Ph Christopher Ross, Pro Des Jacqueline Abrahams, Ed John F. Lyons, Music Max Richter, Costumes Odile Dicks-Mireaux.

 

FilmNation Entertainment/BBC Films/LipSync/Origin Pictures-StudioCanal.
108 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 14 April 2017. Cert. 15.