The Observer (Oct 7, 2007, by Philip French)
The first painting I ever remember seeing was a steel-engraving on the wall of my grandparent's parlour of WF Yeames's Victorian genre piece, And When Did You Last See Your Father? I was told it represented a brave cavalier lad refusing to betray the whereabouts of his father to the Cromwellian soldiers questioning him. Only later did I learn than Yeames intended it to represent a boy so devoted to the truth that he could not forbear to answer the question honestly and thus betray his father.
Much later I was to associate Yeames's painting with my favourite modern playwright, Chekhov, an unflinchingly truthful observer of ordinary provincial people enduring lives of quiet desperation. This happened when I discovered that Yeames and Chekhov were born within 15 years of each other in the obscure Russian town of Taganrog on the Sea of Azov. The painter's father was the local British consul and the playwright's father a store owner. Naturally I thought of them both this week while seeing the excellent, beautifully crafted film version of a book that borrows its title from Yeames, by the critic, novelist and one-time literary editor of The Observer, Blake Morrison. It's a painfully honest, beautifully written memoir of his relationship with his father, Arthur, who like Chekhov was a provincial doctor.
The book, adapted by David Nicholls (who wrote Starter for 10), and directed by Anand Tucker (who made the rather less good Hilary and Jackie), is about memory, coming to terms with the past, and trying to understand a complex father. And it belongs to a tradition that some would trace from two classic works published at the beginning of the last century, Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh and Edmund Gosse's Father and Son
I was on the 1988 Booker jury with Morrison the year the prize went to Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda, which was inspired by Gosse's memoir, and when the most controversial book was The Satanic Verses, a novel dealing in part with Salman Rushdie seeking reconciliation with his dying father. By happy coincidence there's a scene in the film in which Arthur Morrison (Jim Broadbent) meets Rushdie (played by a convincing lookalike) at a London literary gathering at which Blake (Colin Firth, doing quiet agonising to perfection) is being honoured by everyone present except for his mocking father.
The movie turns on the 40-year-old Blake's visits to his old home in the Yorkshire market town of Skipton in the early Nineties to see his father, who's dying of cancer, and the memories these visits evoke. It begins with an extremely funny scene in which Arthur's exasperating character is displayed as he, his wife Kim, also a doctor (Juliet Stevenson), the 12-year-old Blake (Matthew Beard) and his young sister, are stuck in a long traffic jam on their way to a motor-race meeting in an Alvis convertible. Broadbent adds another remarkable figure to his portrait gallery of real-life people he's recently impersonated: WS Gilbert, Gangs of New York's Boss Tweed, John Bayley, and Lord Longford. He really captures the cantankerous, wily, patronising, duplicitous, arrogant, breezy saloon-bar charmer Arthur as he passes the grid-locked cars waving his stethoscope as a badge of his credentials, and then talks his way into the race track. The sequence conveys the embarrassment and reluctant admiration of Blake and the quiet fortitude of his mother. She's spent her life coping with Arthur's combination of wheedling and overbearing, as well as his lies and infidelities, all in the cause of holding the family together. Stevenson is magnificent in the passive role of the crushed Kim, growing old without recourse to make-up. Her ageing woman's walk is perfect, and in every gesture, every forced smile she conveys a life of acquiescence, of giving her children the unconditional love her domestic-tyrant husband denies them.
'We've got through it, we've been happy, haven't we?' the dying Arthur pleads, and she assures him they have. But the older Blake asks her, 'How do you put up with him, Mum?', and the teenage Blake reads The Brothers Karamazov and tells an uncomprehending Dad that it's about a son who murders his father. After having sex for the first time with the family's Scottish maid, Blake feels free to tell the girl he hates his father and wishes him dead, a confession that shocks her. Not all of Blake's memories are of embarrassment, humiliation and the almost wilful refusal of his father to offer encouragement, praise and love. There's an exhilarating moment when Arthur hands over the wheel of the elegant Alvis to Blake for the first time on a large expanse of beach and encourages the cowed teenager to drive with reckless abandon.
Sensitively edited by Trevor Waite, the film alternates subtly, seamlessly between past and present and constantly uses mirrors to suggest the different meanings of reflection, of seeing things through a glass darkly, of viewing events from different angles. It touches movingly, enlighteningly on universal matters we can all identify with, and it does so without ever getting maudlin or sentimental. Blake carries around his father's pacemaker, cut out by the undertaker when preparing Arthur's corpse for cremation, and the movie ends, more or less as the book does, with Blake asking the question of the title and trying to remember the moment when his father last was his real self before the rapid descent to death. It isn't remotely like the epiphanous memory Bergman's elderly doctor has at the end of Wild Strawberries of seeing his parents when young.
(Oct 5, 2007, by Peter Bradshaw) - 4 out of 5 stars
The title has nothing to do with WF Yeames's painting; it is about the agony of trying to remember a dead father, really remember the last time he was properly himself, before the spores of illness invaded his personality and the insidious, gradual process of dying began. Blake Morrison's bestselling and highly influential memoir from 1993, about an ambiguous, painful reconciliation with his dying father, has here been turned into an intelligent and heartfelt film. David Nicholls's clear adaptation intercuts between the unendurable pathos of the father's deathbed, and the son's childhood memories in flashback.
Jim Broadbent is on terrific form as Morrison's father Arthur, a country GP with a rakish, raffish addiction to venial scams and dodges, with Juliet Stevenson as his long-suffering wife. Colin Firth is the tight-lipped Blake himself, still needing closure after a lifetime's swallowed rage, still seething at Arthur's blustering refusal to congratulate him on his successes in literary London. When Arthur becomes ill, Blake is prevailed upon to return to the family home, to face the fact that Arthur is dying, and to have it out with him, especially about the family's darkest secret: Arthur's apparent affair with their Auntie Beaty (Sarah Lancashire). The family home is one big madeleine, and Blake finds himself remembering a hundred little humiliations and agonies, a thousand petty lies and evasions, but also acts of kindness and love, and he comes to see how Arthur was a flawed adult, like everyone else.
A first-rate cast is very well directed by Anand Tucker, though some may be disconcerted—as I was—by the lack of any final confrontation between Blake and Arthur. He does not, in Hollywood style, finally tell his dad that he loves him, and the movie reveals that Blake has already, as a teenager, confronted Arthur about his apparent philandering. The story as revealed here is not as explicitly emotional as Martin Amis's exchanges with the dying Kingsley in Experience, or Alan Clark's farewell to his father Kenneth in his Diaries, but you would need a heart of stone not to be moved by Jim Broadbent's excellent performance.
Perhaps an adaptation cannot convey the drama of an internal, first-person narrative. The passage in the book in which Morrison finds himself masturbating in the bath is here hardly shocking at all. Colin Firth is simply shown squirming under opaque bathwater.
All this occurs amidst the messiness of real life and real death, in which there often isn't opportunity for cathartic declarations at the final hour. Tucker's film is true to this fact, and it is especially moving when it shows Blake crying for the first time - not at the moment itself, but at the recovered memory of a long-buried emotional farewell with his dad, on leaving for university decades before. This deeply felt film from Anand Tucker deserves to be seen.
(Oct 5, 2007, by Anthony Quinn) - 4 out of 5 stars
Blake Morrison's 1993 memoir of his vexed relationship with his father and the old man's eventual death from cancer was the spearhead in a new genre of confessional writing. The book has now passed into the reliable hands of screenwriter David Nicholls and director Anand Tucker, who between them have finessed Morrison's pained intimacies into a deeply affectionate film.
Flitting back and forth between the adult Blake (Colin Firth) and his younger self in the 1960s (played by Matthew Beard), the film is part tribute, part inquisition into the character of Arthur Morrison, bumptious Yorkshire doctor, jovial family man and suspected philanderer. Tucker's gliding, sinuous camerawork is beautiful, both in its corner-of-the-eye watchfulness and its hints of turmoil beneath the British reserve; this is a film-maker who knows exactly what he's doing.
It's a great song of innocence and embarrassment, with a lively, gregarious performance at its centre by Jim Broadbent as Arthur and a quieter but no less effective one by debutant Beard. Indeed, one might argue that the weak link is the housewife's favourite (and box-office banker) Firth, whose emotional range—repressed, unsmiling Britishness—seems to get narrower by the year. That might be precisely what the part requires, in which case he's well chosen—but he's not much as fun to watch as the other two. A palpable hit nonetheless.
|Irish Times (Oct
5, 2007, by Donald Clarke) - 3 of 5 stars
Blake Morrison's coruscating memoir was notable, among other things, for its author's willingness to indulge in public self-flagellation. Blake's father, whose slow death formed the book's core, is revealed to be a liar, a philanderer and an emotional bully.
But, lest we suspect Morrison jnr thinks himself a paragon of decency, the book does not flinch from—indeed, it positively relishes—detailing various manifestations of his own moral weakness. Much of that petty wretchedness has made it into this solid film adaptation. The scene in which Morrison (Colin Firth) masturbates guiltily while his father wheezes next door gives off the just the right degree of queasy discomfort. The sequence where, despite an apparently stable marriage, he presses himself on an old flame is equally unsettling. If you are seeking vicarious guilt, then look no further.
What has proved more difficult to translate from page to screen is the disconnect between who Arthur Morrison really was and who his son believed him to be. Deprived of the uncertain first-person narrative, the film must rely on Jim Broadbent to carry both the author's impression and the obscure reality.
As his childhood progressed, Blake began to suspect that his father—a bluff fantasist—was having an affair with a family friend (Sarah Lancashire) and that he may even have fathered her daughter. That knowledge, combined with stewing resentment at the older man's frequent insensitivity, helped Blake create a classic Oedipal monster out of Arthur. Yet, as the book proceeded, we came to suspect unfairness in this inadvertent caricature.
Despite a reliably warm performance from Broadbent, the film can never quite communicate that ambiguity. One fine scene, in which the boozers in a pub fall for Arthur's charisma while the young Blake fumes, does help confirm that the rest of the world had a very different vision of the brash charmer. But the film version remains psychologically underpowered when set beside its source material.
Still, Anand Tucker, director of Hilary and Jackie, does have a lovely feel for period detail and—making promiscuous, metaphorical use of mirrors—squeezes agreeable degrees of melancholy from the lengthy flashbacks. Allowing the images to take on the boldness of three-strip Technicolor, Tucker offers us a film that, though somewhat short on emotional insight, is never anything less than seductive. Worthy, middlebrow British cinema has done many plenty worse things to cinemagoers.
|The Telegraph (Oct
5, 2007, by Tim Robey)
And When Did You Last See Your Father? is stealthily moving and very well-played. I don't want to knock this adaptation of Blake Morrison's memoir about his dying dad, but it ideally belongs on TV: the overbearing music, a bit of a habit with director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl, Hilary and Jackie), seems to be straining to hoist it up on to the big screen.
There's no need. Tucker's film is built around a deliberately infuriating portrait from Jim Broadbent, as a difficult, droll, secretive, loving, unknowable person on his way out from bowel cancer. This is Arthur Morrison, or a version of him. We get three versions of his son, played in childhood by Bradley Johnson, as a bookish teen by talented newcomer Matthew Beard, and in adulthood by a perfectly-cast, tired and aggrieved Colin Firth.
Smoothly interwoven flashbacks dramatise both a relationship and an absence of one—or at least the blanks in one.
For a long while, Blake's feelings for his neglected mother (a splendid Juliet Stevenson) are the most affecting element. But the last scene captures the moment of loss beautifully, with a shared smile between father and son and the flicking off of a light switch.
|The Mirror (Oct 5,
2007, by David Edwards)
Tears fail to flow in Colin Firth’s new movie, a would-be weepy more suited to TV than the big screen. Despite the best efforts of all involved, the only tears this prompts are the ones that arrive when you’ve been yawning too much.
Firth plays a mixed-up author called Blake who’s summoned back home to the deathbed of his father (Jim Broadbent), prompting a series of childhood flashbacks where we learn dad wasn’t the all-round good bloke everyone thought he was.
Firth, playing yet another maddeningly repressed character, is passable while Matthew Beard, as the teenage Blake, is much better. Broadbent, however, is excellent as the ebullient dad with skeletons rattling around in his closet. Yet the poignancy so clearly strived for fails to arrive, aside from a nice moment near the end as father and son quietly bond while hanging a chandelier.
|Daily Mail (Oct 5,
2007, by Christopher Tookey) - 3 out of 5 stars
There's no doubt about the performance of the week. That's by the great Jim Broadbent, who has never been more touching than as poet Blake Morrison's dad.
This bittersweet memoir is a well-crafted, beautifully acted little film that explores the father-son relationship with remarkable candour and probes at aspects of Englishness that rarely make it on to the big screen.
Broadbent plays a larger-than-life, cheerfully insensitive, middle-class doctor who's far too afraid of showing emotion to tell his son that he loves him. Even when the adult Blake (played, somewhat flatteringly, by Colin Firth—Alan Cumming would have been a better physical likeness) wins a poetry prize in middle age, his dad can't say "well done". Instead, he complains jovially that Blake should have done something useful like medicine, and announces that the award is made out of plastic.
David Nicholls's skilful, sympathetic and sensitive screenplay uses flashbacks to Blake's youth, where he is played first by Bradley Johnson, then by Matthew Beard.
As in the book, the layers of the father's character are gradually peeled away: from the blustering, pompous and egocentric fellow he is on the outside, to the scared and surprisingly loving man he is at heart. I defy anyone not to be moved by the end.
The big weakness of the film as drama is that not a lot happens. It also lacks suspense and unpredictability. The only "secret"—that the father may have been conducting a long-term affair—is signalled so far in advance that it comes as no surprise. Whereas a novel can bring out what the author is thinking, in the movie Blake is passive and reactive. Firth brings intelligence and an element of self-mockery to the role; but despite his best efforts, Blake comes across in adolescence as a prig, and in adulthood as just as much of an egotist as his father, and far more of a whinger.
The film won't travel well. Its respect for the way the English middle classes restrain expression of their emotions would be described across the Atlantic as "denial". But that's partly why I liked it.
Director Anand Tucker (Hilary And Jackie) wins fine performances from all his cast. I especially liked Juliet Stevenson as Blake's long-suffering mum, Gina McKee as Blake's almost as long-suffering wife, and Sarah Lancashire as 'Auntie Beaty' who may or may not be having an affair with Blake's father.
The film really belongs on the telly, if not the radio, where it would be sure to pick up the acting awards it deserves. In the cinema, it has about as much chance of being a hit as I have of becoming a Dame of the British Empire. But that doesn't mean I'm sorry to have seen it.
|Daily Express (Oct
4, 2007, by Henry Fitzherbert) - 3 stars
And When Did You Last See Your Father? is a handsome but rather dull adaptation of Blake Morrison’s bestelling memoir. Jim Broadbent is terrific as Arthur Morrison, a bluff, domineering character whose gradual death from cancer prompts his son Blake (Colin Firth) to relive and re-evaluate their relationship, seen here in flashbacks.
We learn how the ’infallible, invincible’ Arthur of Blake’s early childhood soon morphed into an exasperating, stubborn individual who hogged the limelight and, Blake suspects, was betraying their mother (Julie Stevenson) with a family friend (Sarah Lancashire).
The picture is most compelling as a character study, exploring the curiouslty of how those closest to us can remain unknoweable. It’s directed with panache by Anand Tucker but dramatically never takes flight, remaining a series of snapshots rather than a compelling, emotionally-engaging narrative. Firth is fine as the adult Blake, but the younger incarnation, played by Matthew Bear makes the stonger impression.
Standard (Oct 4, 2007, by Derek Malcolm)
Anand Tucker's adaptation of Blake Morrison's moving memoir of a difficult yet loved father has one huge advantage: the acting. Of a particularly British kind, it's often understated and never forced but also wonderfully expressive without ever pushing what is a quietly observed drama into sentimental melodrama.
Otherwise, this is one of those commendably well-made and a trifle old-fashioned films which nowadays will probably find as large an audience on television as in the cinema. Given a sensitive and faithful screenplay from David Nicholls (Starter for 10), and direction from Tucker that seldom puts a foot wrong, it's about how parents form their children, sometimes leaving scars of which they are totally unaware.
In this case, Father (Jim Broadbent) is not a bad man, and would certainly be an amusing old cove to meet. He delights in saving money, getting something for nothing by using old tickets to get into race meetings, and entertaining guests with jolly jokes. He appears to be the life and soul of the party and definitely the centre of attention.
He doesn't treat his son (Matthew Beard as a boy, and then Colin Firth) that badly either. He teaches him to drive on the beach, takes him on damp but jolly exploratory camping holidays and tries with all his might to make a man of him. Or rather, a man like him. But he is also one who can't help both intimidating and patronising first the boy and then the man, while inadvertently turning his devoted wife (Juliet Stevenson) into half the woman she really is.
His disappointment in her is reflected in his constant flirtation, and possible affair, with another woman (Sarah Lancashire) who may have borne him a daughter. His disappointment with his son has its basis in the fact that he wanted him to be a medic like himself and not the writer he becomes. It is a family not exactly unhappy but one, like so many, with enough underlying tensions that its members are never completely at peace with each other.
The story is developed in a series of flashbacks, mostly from the moment when Father is diagnosed with incurable cancer and lies slowly dying at home, complaining of his fate. Blake is then 40 and an established author with a wife and two children, doubting that his father will ever accept him.
Earlier, he is very well played by Beard, who expresses with skill the sexual-torments of adolescence and his resentment of the father he once adored. But in this sort of intimate, relationship-driven work, it's the senior actors on whom you rely, and they don't let you down for a moment.
Broadbent accepts a gift of a part with well-observed abandon; Firth gives a lesson in vulnerability without seeming unduly weak or neurotic; and Stevenson's portrait of Mother manages with a dozen tiny details to show us the constraints of her lifelong love for a man who may have betrayed her. What can she do with a husband who, holding her hand as he lies dying, tells her, as if to congratulate himself, that the two of them have had a happy enough life together?
This is a film you don't expect to be as good as it is or to probe as deeply into feelings practically all of us experience at some time.
It's small in scale, perhaps, and burdened with a score that is the only insistently sentimental aspect to the whole affair.
But it talks eloquently, sometimes in almost a whisper, about how we are all shaped, whether we like it or not, by people we learn to love in death, but often resent in life.
(Oct 4, 2007, by Miles Fielder)
Blake Morrison's painfully raw memoir about his relationship with his dying father gets classy big screen treatment courtesy of director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie), screenwriter David Nicholls (Starter For Ten) and an all-round marvellous cast.
Cleverly cutting back and forth between the film's 1980s present, when Morrison (Colin Firth) is attempting to come to terms with his father's terminal cancer, and the fifties past, during which various awkward childhood episodes with his domineering dad are played out (with Matthew Beard as young Blake), Tucker quite astutely outlines the difficult relationship between Arthur Morrison and his son. To the credit of Morrison—and the filmmakers—the portrait painted of Arthur (Jim Broadbent) is neither overly sentimental nor excessively critical, and yet it remains very tender and touching.
It helps that the film boasts a superb central performance from Broadbent as the charismatic, eccentric and overpowering patriarch whose vivid personality fades as he succumbs to his illness. Arthur is alternately a source of great amusement and later a cause of great sadness, and Broadbent elicits a good deal of both in what may be the best role of an impressive acting career. Firth, by contrast, maintains an admirably restrained, subtle performance of Blake that's a wholly appropriate approach to playing a man whose conflicting emotions about his father are eating him up inside.
Strong turns from the female cast—Juliet Stevenson as Blake's mousey mum, Gina McKee as his supportive wife and Sarah Lancashire as his flirty "aunt" Beaty—shore up this emotionally engaging film.
(Oct 3, 2007, by Nigel Andrews)
The world is back in order and in colour in And When Did You Last See Your Father? The birds sing and the son (Colin Firth) shines. Firth plays Blake Morrison, be-medalled writer and bedevilled child of a Yorkshire doctor (Jim Broadbent) who, as all gods do to favourite mortals, both loved him and drove him mad. Barely back in action after playing the dying Iris Murdoch’s husband, the admirable Broadbent now takes his turn to peg out, poignantly, near a literary flame, over two hours.
Morrison’s memoir asked: at what moment in death’s decline does someone you love cease to be that person? When did he, Blake, last see the father he knew, the round-the-clock jokester, the fussing dad, the philandering spouse? Broadbent and Firth, their chunky width of feature helping us believe in the blood link, express father-son love as only the British can: through gritted bonhomie, hectic matiness and frequent unexplained (to each other) standoffs.
A younger actor, Bradley Johnson, resembling neither Firth nor Broadbent but a spitting likeness of Morrison, comes in for boyhood scenes of parent-child debacle, including a flooded tent on a Cumbrian camping trip (very funny). The film is sweet, simplified and a bit syrupy on the soundtrack. Someone should have held down the composer, Barrington Pheloung, and hissed in his ear: “Less is more.” But the acting is uniformly good and the death scene magicks all the right sniffles from the audience.
|BBC (Oct 3, 2007,
by Stella Papamichael)
A writer seeks to bury the hatchet with his terminally ill dad in the powerful drama And When Did You Last See Your Father? Tim Burton took a fanciful approach to the same subject in Big Fish (2004), but director Anand Tucker has no need of bells and whistles, instead letting Colin Firth, and especially Jim Broadbent, enthral us with wonderfully vivid performances. As the teenage version of Firth's grumpy scribe, cheeky up-and-comer Matthew Beard is also one to watch.
Past and present are skilfully entwined from the memoirs of Blake Morrison, revealing a complex tangle of emotions. Visiting dad for what he knows is the final time, Blake tries to come to terms with their history. In flashbacks, Arthur is an exuberant but very tactless father. Humiliating the boy in front of prospective girlfriends is bad enough, but his affair with aunt Beaty (Sarah Lancashire) guarantees his son's diligent loathing. And yet with age comes wisdom.
It's easy to see why the offended parties, including Arthur's long-suffering wife (the brilliant Juliet Stevenson), couldn't stay angry with him for long. Broadbent strikes the perfect balance between infuriating old sod and endearing ‘little boy lost'. He also benefits from a finely crafted script. Arthur's inbred reluctance to show any emotion means that even the vaguest gesture of compassion has a devastating effect. Tucker's direction is similarly toned down, getting in close to the actors and conveying their unspoken feelings without becoming bogged down in syrupy sentiment. Arthur's blinkered approach to fatherhood raises a good few laughs as well, like forcing Blake to test out his self-made 'waterproof' tent on a compulsory camping trip. Clichés are in evidence (e.g. a driving lesson on the beach serves as one happy memory), but there can be no doubting the film's sincerity. And for all the heartbreak, you will be left with good memories.
|The Times (Oct
4, 2007, by James Christopher) - 2 out of 5 stars
And When Did You Last See Your Father? is the kind of rhetorical question Inspector Morse asks a suspect before snapping on the bracelets. But this is a Blake Morrison confession about how much he loved and failed his father, and I guess we should be grateful it didn’t arrive in rhyming couplets.
A decade ago Morrison’s biography explored a grief that, I suspect unwittingly, indeed shockingly, exposed the shallow times. The film doesn’t cut the same mustard. Despite a terrific performance by Colin Firth as the traumatised son of a noisy and uncultured father, the drama is trapped in Primrose Hill. The director, Anand Tucker, doesn’t do much to prise his film from the jaws of instant damnation. Firth is a manly middle-aged poet trapped between the wild shores of a boring past and a slightly less interesting present by a barking dad played by Jim Broadbent. Juliet Stevenson plays the long-suffering wife and mother. On rather less pay, I suspect.
London (Oct 3-9, 2007, by Dave Calhoun)
The title is from the 1878 painting by WF Yeames, which Blake Morrison later borrowed as the title for his 1993 book—a moving response to the death of his father that favours accurate recollection over extended meditation or self-flagellation. In both book and film, we move back and forth between a few months in the early 1990s that see the illness and death of Morrison’s father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent), a retired doctor in a Yorkshire village, and the late ’50s and ’60s when Blake (played then by Bradley Johnson) is a curious teenager, embarrassed by his father’s gregarious personality and suspicious of his relationship with bubbly family friend Beaty (Sarah Lancashire). The screen darkens for the later episodes, as Arthur discovers he has cancer, falls ill quickly and dies, forcing Blake (now played by Colin Firth) to confront his stormy relationship with his father and help care for him in his final days with his mother, Kim (Juliet Stevenson). The portrayal of death is stark and unpolished.
The transfer of a first-person memoir from page to screen is often tricky, yet Anand Tucker (‘Hilary and Jackie’) and writer David Nicholls manage the task mostly with success, largely by sticking rigidly to the detail and structure of Morrison’s book. It’s not a radical solution, and visually the results are unexceptional. However, the story is well-handled and sensitively performed so as to avoid excess sentimentality and to do justice to Morrison’s work and, one imagines, his father. It’s certainly a moving film, and many will find its close examination of a father-son relationship particularly cathartic and reflective.
|Empire (by Anna
Smith) - 4 out of 5 stars
Hilary And Jackie director Anand Tucker brings Blake Morrison’s autobiographical bestseller to the screen with sensitivity, humour and visual flair...Broadbent is a hoot as the bullish Arthur, while Firth brings a quiet dignity to the adult scenes.
Verdict: A superior British drama.
Sunday (Sep 30, 2007, by Alastair McKay) - ***
It's hard, now, to remember, but when Blake Morrison published his memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?, his emotional honesty seemed refreshing and slightly shocking. His book was moving because the author, inspired by his father's death, dared to examine his family history and—having discovered that things were more complicated than he had suspected—chose to air his family's dirty laundry in public. The book worked not because of the revelations, but because Morrison, a poet, wrote with beautifully unflinching intimacy.
Poetry is hard to film, and Morrison's voice is almost absent from this adaptation, though it does make an appearance near the end, in a voiceover that makes sense of the title. It is an enquiry about the essence of a man who has suffered a decline before dying. If the man was unrecognisable on his deathbed, where did he go, and when was he last present?
These are not the usual concerns of multiplex cinema, and Tucker attempts to sugar the pill of grief with lashings of nostalgia. The young Morrison (there are two: Matthew Beard and Bradley Johnson) is an intense soul, who graduates from climbing trees and being called a "fathead" in the back of his father's convertible, to reading Dostoevsky and listening to r'n'b. His father Arthur (Jim Broadbent) is a good-natured dictator, a camp commandant who misses no opportunity to undermine his son, whether by lacing his drink with vodka at the Butlins dinner table or—when the adult Morrison (Colin Firth) wins a poetry award—engaging Salman Rushdie in a conversation. (Morrison doesn't hear this chat, but speculates that his dad will be saying to Rushdie: "Have you read Jaws, Salman? Now that is a book.")
Broadbent succeeds in making Morrison's father larger-than-life, even in the moment of death, which can't come soon enough. The death scene is protracted and painful, for Morrison (who can be heard urging his father to stop breathing), and for the cinema audience, who may be wearied by such unflagging morbidity.
Matters are not helped by Firth, who does nothing to replicate Morrison's quiet charm or intellectual curiosity, playing him instead as a self-pitying wet blanket. At least Matthew Beard, as the teenage Morrison, gets to have some fun, fooling around with the family nanny (Elaine Cassidy), before settling into what seems like a life of unadulterated gloom and emotional distance from his wife (Gina McKee), his mother (Juliet Stevenson) and everyone. The women in the film are peripheral, largely because Morrison left them out of the book, but it does seem a waste of McKee, and particularly Stevenson, whose main contribution is to wear a pinnie with an attractive bubble car design. Sarah Lancashire (as Arthur's special friend Auntie Beaty) completes the roll call of marginalised and barely understood women.
|Film 4 (by
Demetrios Matheou) - 3.5/5 stars
It's not easy to tug—or in this case positively yank—at an audience's heartstrings, yet avoid accusations of manipulation. This adaptation of Blake Morrison's memoir avoids such pitfalls due to fine acting and a well-judged screenplay that, together, give full rein to the darker currents of family relationships.
Published in 1993, Morrison's memoir dealt with the experience of watching his father die of cancer, and of his desperate attempts in those last days to address a lifetime of conflicted emotions. By all accounts Arthur Morrison, a GP in the Yorkshire Dales, was a boisterous, self-righteous, often embarrassing man, with a gift for hogging the limelight and taking the sails out of his son. Blake was also convinced that Arthur was cheating on his mother with a family friend.
The film replicates both the candour of the book and its loose structure. It opens in the late 1980s with the 40-year-old Blake (Firth), a successful novelist married with two children. When his now elderly father (Broadbent) falls ill, Blake returns to his Yorkshire home to attend to him and his mother Kim (Stevenson). There he finds memories of two periods of his life—as a young boy in the 1950s, and a teenager in the 1960s—crowding his thoughts.
Some of these recollections are pretty excruciating for the lad: Arthur shamelessly using his doctor's ID to blag his way into a car rally, boasting of "three bob tickets for just two bob"; a camping trip during which Arthur's newly invented sleeping bag gets them soaked; a family holiday during which Blake's attempts to impress a girl are upstaged by his infinitely more entertaining old man.
The darkest period is the 1960s, when the impressive newcomer Matthew Beard as the teenage Blake conveys the embarrassment and disgust that only a teenager can feel toward a parent. When we see the result of Arthur's long shadow—in the typically repressed form of Colin Firth—we get an inkling of the damage.
While Firth and, particularly, the young Beard provide the seething bitterness that enables the film to keep its integrity, it is the fabulous Broadbent who gives it heart. The actor portrays Arthur as flawed and irritating, yes, but also as a man full of bonhomie and genuine love for his family.
Verdict: Director Anand Tucker has moved quickly past the execrable Steve Martin vehicle Shopgirl with a solid, thoughtful, character-driven film.
Hollywood Reporter (Sept 21, by Michael Rechtshaffen)
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Blake Morrison, "When Did You Last See Your Father?" is a stylishly appointed but monotonous relationship drama that keeps going around in the same, indulgent circles.
Director Anand Tucker does well by his seasoned British cast, but his warts-and-all portrait of a middle-aged man (Colin Firth) coming to terms with the terminal illness of his tough-to-love father (Jim Broadbent) proves to be as brooding and emotionally unavailable as its headstrong protagonists.
While the film, which was also shown in Telluride, could attract some of those who made the 1993 book a bestseller when it's released across the pond early next month, it will unlikely stand out among the season's awards contenders.
Morrison's confessional memoir is seen through the eyes of its 40-year-old author (Firth), whose lifelong, strained relationship with his doctor dad, Arthur (Broadbent) is explored in a series of flashbacks, triggered when Blake must confront the severity of his father's cancer.
What follows are alternating sequences in which a 14-year-old Blake (Matthew Beard) and an 8-year-old Blake (Bradley Johnson) are exposed to various incidents of Daddy behaving badly, be it humiliating him in front of the opposite sex or having a rather close relationship with Blake's "aunt" Beaty (Sarah Lancashire), while his wife (Juliet Stevenson) is busy maintaining their medical practice.
As choreographed by director Tucker ("Shopgirl," "Hilary and Jackie") and screenwriter David Nicholls ("Starter for 10"), all this flitting back and forth in time can get awfully repetitive after a while, and the episodic results have the unfortunate results of making Broadbent's imminent death feel interminable.
Grappling with such a tricky, internally focused character, the usually reliable Firth comes across a bit heavy on the morose side, here. You'll either find yourself empathizing with his burning resentment of his father's behavior or want to give him one of Cher's "Moonstruck" slaps and tell him to snap out of it.
Broadbent, meanwhile, manages to find the ultimate compassion in the elder Morrison, despite his obvious flaws; and Stevenson, playing quite a bit older than usual as his quietly accepting wife, turns in a customarily moving performance.
Technical aspects, including cinematographer Howard Atherton's picture postcard compositions and production designer Alice Normington's thoughtful, multi-period touches, provide an immediacy and warmth otherwise lacking in Tucker's dramatically austere approach.
Bottom Line: This dirge of a father-son drama gets stuck in a ponderously passive rut.
(Aug 23, 2007, by Alsion Rowat) - ***
Got home the other night in time to catch a television programme called 10 Reasons to Hate the Edinburgh Festival, in which the film segment of the annual arts orgy took a drubbing for wallowing in misery. Wheeled out as proof of the EIFF's determination to raise the nation's Prozac intake was Anand Tucker's British drama, adapted from the memoir by Blake Morrison.
Having spent part of the day watching a Belgian film that featured male rape, a dead baby, and double incontinence, one couldn't help thinking the telly programme might have a point. The swing at Anand was unfair, though. While you couldn't call a movie which has at its heart the last days of a terminally ill man a laugh riot, And When Did You Last See? will have most people leaving the cinema a little more in love with life than they were before.
The cast alone is reason enough to give it a punt. Pride and Prejudice's Colin Firth (not, alas, in wet breeches) plays Blake Morrison, with Jim Broadbent his father, Arthur, and Juliet Stevenson his mother.
Blake's reluctance to spend time with his ailing father is immediately apparent. It is not just the circumstances that distress him but the man himself. His attitude seems cruel, yet through a series of flashbacks showing Blake as boy, teenager and adult, a picture builds up the difficult relationship that has existed over the years between the doctor and his sensitive writer son. We soon understand that the differences between the pair amount to more than a clash of personalities. Every family has its secrets, and the screenplay by David Nicholls is careful to keep the Morrison family skeleton in the closet for as long as possible.
Tucker's film starts its run in cinemas at a slight disadvantage, and not just because of the difficult subject matter. Morrison's memoir was so exquisitely written, and struck such a personal chord with readers, that expectations of the film will be high. Outstanding performances from Broadbent, Firth and Matthew Beard as the teenage Blake aside, And When Did You Last See? struggles to match the book for subtlety, coming across at times as heavy handed. Mercifully, given the events with which the film deals, there's a lot of humour, too. Even the grimmest moments have their lighter side. As in life, so it is in film festivals.
(Aug 21, 2007, by Nick Roddick) - ****
Resolution of a very different kind is the subject of the movie version of Blake Morrison's bestselling 1993 memoir about the death of his father. After the wrong-turn of his Hollywood effort, Shopgirl, Tucker achieves the near-impossible by delivering a movie that is as engrossing and emotionally powerful as Morrison's book. It is a film likely to strike a chord in almost everybody.
The screenplay by David Nicholls...navigates most of the obstacles involved in telling a story with no obvious structure that switches constantly between time-frames: the 1950s, when young Blake idolised his father, a Yorkshire GP with an irrepressible eye for the main chance; the Sixties, when the father's saloon-bar manner failed to offer the affection and support the adolescent needed; and the present, when the old man is in the terminal stages of bowel cancer.
Heading a wonderful cast, Jim Broadbent is at the peak of his formidable form as Morrison senior, while Colin Firth's bottled-up style—a sort of British Gary Cooper—makes him ideal casting as the adult Blake. The real revelation, however, is teenager Matthew Beard, who perfectly captures the anguish of the adolescent Blake without ever appearing sulky or ridiculous.
(Aug 21, 2007,
by Derek Elly)
Immaculately acted, professionally helmed and saturated in period British atmosphere, “And When Did You Last See Your Father?” is an unashamed tearjerker that’s all wrapping and no center. Showcase for English vet Jim Broadbent, as a charismatic dad whose son feels perpetually overshadowed, just about manages to go its hour-and-a-half distance by dint of its performances. Undeniably effective at a gut level despite its dramatic shortcomings, pic should find a specialty welcome among fans of Blake Morrison’s 1993 memoir, offshore Brit-fare enthusiasts and distaff auds of a certain age.
Skedded for release in Blighty Oct. 10, and Stateside through Sony Pictures Classics in February, the film should also figure into the upcoming awards season (following its Toronto screening) as the kind of tony Brit-lit picture older voters go for. But by never getting to the heart of the matter, nor having even one scene where father and son really talk, the movie has a big black hole at its core. In the smorgasbord of father-son relationship pics, this one is very low-cal.
Film opens exactly as Morrison’s memoir does: with boyish Blake (Bradley Johnson) stuck in a country traffic jam with his dad, Arthur (Broadbent), and mom, Kim (Juliet Stevenson), during a summer in the late ‘50s. As a voiceover by the adult Blake (Colin Firth) explains, “My father could talk his way into, and out of, anything.” Soon, the irrepressible Arthur has managed to skip the car queue and parlayed his way into reserved seating at the races.
It’s the first of several set pieces in which Arthur, a country doctor whose bragadaccio masked a real love for his wife and children, shows not the slightest embarrassment for those around him. Cut to London in 1989, where Blake is having some quick nooky with his wife, Kathy (Gina McKee), and their lovemaking is interrupted by dad’s knock on the door. “The sex police,” mutters Blake, a phrase that is shown to resonate from his teenage years, when dad was always interrupting his fumbling attempts at sexual congress.
Soon afterward, Arthur is diagnosed with terminal cancer and, as Blake visits him in the family home, the script starts freely moving among three timeframes: the late ‘50s, with Blake as a kid in short pants; through the ‘60s, in which Matthew Beard plays Blake as a hormonal teenager; and 1989, when Blake is a grown adult with his own career as a writer-poet.
Collection of episodes, mostly from the ‘60s, contain some amusing stuff: Blake and Arthur getting waterlogged on a camping expedition; Blake falling head-over-heels for their gutsy young Scottish au pair (Elaine Cassidy, in pic’s standout support); and Blake’s clumsy attempts to chat up Rachel (Carey Mulligan), a girl he meets on holiday who’s more interested in his dad. This is just as well, as there’s precious little happening onscreen in the relationship between father and son.
Morrison’s memoir managed to sustain a fairly ordinary story through the easy grace of its writing. Divorced from the page, and with little backgrounding on any of the characters, the yarn lacks the drama and conflict necessary for a feature film, and largely ambles along on good performances.
Things aren’t helped any by Firth’s dour perf, as his Blake comes across as a self-centered whiner, a latter-day Me Generation figure who’s obsessed with finding problems when there really aren’t any. And with Broadbent playing Arthur as a charming blusterer who wouldn’t hurt a fly, there’s no true conflict at script’s heart.
Supporting performances are strong, with Stevenson aces as the underplayed mom, Beard good as the teenaged Blake and Mulligan ditto as the elusive Rachel. McKee, who’s really developing as an actress in her middle years, is notable as Blake’s wife, as far as her part is written.
Period flavor—with saturated colors in the ‘50s scenes that grow duller in subsequent timeframes—is strongly detailed in Alice Normington’s production design and Caroline Harris’ costumes, both heightened a notch beyond naturalism. Composer Barrington Pheloung’s chordal washes flood the yarn with wistful emotion.
(Aug 21, 2007, by Alistair Harkness) - 3 stars
Based on Blake Morrison's best-selling confessional memoir of the same name, And When Did You Last See Your Father? stars Jim Broadbent as the author's father, Arthur, a cantankerous old coot whose imminent death from cancer and unrepentant attitude to his life is threatening to thwart his estranged son's reluctant attempts to reconcile their differences before it's too late.
With Blake played at various ages by Colin Firth, Matthew Beard and Bradley Johnson, the film flashes back and forth across his life to sketch out the roots of their enmity, locating it in Arthur's constant need to be the centre of attention and his frequent tendency to crush his son's attempts to assert himself (particularly with girls). But as the film progresses, a deeper, more complicated reason for Blake's dislike of Arthur comes into focus, as it becomes clear that his parents' marriage is more complex than he ever imagined.
Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) gets solid performances from his reliable cast of heavy-hitters (Juliet Stevenson is great as ever as Arthur's quietly suffering wife), but he never quite solves the problem of condensing the troublesome lives of father and son into the framework of a film. Still, this is the best that Firth has been for some time; his internalised performance and Tucker's frequent use of mirrors subtly suggesting that Blake's dislike of his father is really a form of self-loathing because he sees too much of his father in himself.
(Aug 20, 2007, Allan Hunter in Edinburgh)
Anand Tucker's gentle touch and lush tone proved the perfect fit for the wistful romantic comedy Shopgirl but the same approach tends to dull the pain and deaden the impact of writer Blake Morrison's bestselling memoir And When Did You Last See Your Father?
Morrison's book is painfully honest and whilst the film is sensitively handled and impeccably crafted it is also curiously distant and unmoving. Jim Broadbent's ebullient performance as the overbearing father is the film's star attraction and he may even have a distant shot at some awards attention, especially among BAFTA voters. The popularity of the book and the strength of the cast should give this modest traction as a prestige weepie among older, upscale audiences but prospects beyond that are limited.
A successful author and poet, Blake (Firth) endures a love/hate relationship with his father Arthur (Broadbent). It is only when the elderly Arthur is diagnosed with terminal cancer that the diffident Blake is forced to seek some sense of truth and reconciliation.
Reflections on defining moments from his childhood and adolescence allow Blake to revisit the past and try to judge whether his father was incorrigible or insufferable, a family man who enjoyed a harmless flirtation or a philanderer who betrayed his mother Kim (Stevenson) with his fondness for her sister Beaty (Lancashire).
Beautifully shot by Howard Atherton, And When Did You Last See Your Father? is simply too tasteful for its own good. Moving between 1989 and flashbacks to events of the late 1950s and during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it paints the past in the rosy glow of nostalgia.
Summer days are radiant with sunshine, picnic lawns are a lavish green and key discoveries are rendered in dreamy slow motion. Gliding effortlessly between past and present, the film does benefit enormously from the presence of Matthew Beard as the adolescent Blake. An outsider, observing the world with a writer's detachment, he captures all the exasperation and admiration of a youngster who wants to give his father the benefit of the doubt but smarts from the niggling resentments and constant humiliations that come to define their relationship.
Broadbent is entirely convincing as Arthur, a blithe charmer who likes to consider himself the life and soul of any gathering. He may just be oblivious to the damage he causes as he tramples over the feelings of the more sensitive souls around him. The problem in terms of creating the dramatic intensity of a film like This Boy's Life is that Arthur never seems that much of a monster and Broadbent makes him very sympathetic.
The film's weak link is Firth. Firth is a past master at depicting the clenched-jawed emotional repression of the English middle-classes and effectively conveys the anger that Blake has nurtured for years. When the character finally cracks and the emotion pores out Firth's grimacing contortions fail to meet that challenge.
And When Did You Last See Your Father? may well have an appeal to the Iris audience but you are felt wondering what a director like Terence Davies might have made of the material.
(Aug 5, 2007, by Jack Foley)
Get those hankies at the ready this autumn for the release of And When Did You Last See Your Father?, starring Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth....Directed by Anand Tucker (of Hilary and Jackie fame) from a script by David Nicholls (Starter for Ten), And When Did You Last See Your Father? is an emotional, often hilarious examination of family ties. But be warned—you’ll need your hankies close by.
...it’s a film marked by terrific performances and a nice balance between drama, tragedy and humour. Broadbent and Firth are superb, as are some of the younger cast members...Early word suggests that Broadbent could well be in line for awards nominations, with Bafta almost a certain contender and even possibly the Academy Awards.
|Shadows on the Wall
(Jun 15, 2007, by Rich Cline) - 3 stars
Based on the memoir by Blake Morrison, this emotional story skilfully outlines the author's troubled relationship with his father. While it's beautifully shot and acted, the film is also somewhat indulgent and meandering.
Blake (Johnson, Beard and finally Firth) has always struggled with the overpowering presence of his father Arthur (Broadbent), who blustered through life without listening to anyone, talking his way to whatever he wanted. His mother (Stevenson) quietly stands by her husband, even when he seems to be having a fling with a family friend (Lancashire). Even as an adult, Blake can't escape his father's control, which more than annoys his wife (McKee). But when Arthur comes down with terminal cancer, the whole family will have to come to terms with him.
Tucker's direction is fluid and emotive, giving the film a thoughtful, introspective tone that allows Arthur's excesses to emerge in sharp contrast. He also adds a terrific sense of time and place, tracing parallel events with background newscasts. For some reason, he films rather a lot of scenes in mirrors, which strangely highlights Morrison's rather wallowing approach, as if he's the only person to have father issues or to face grief in such a complex way. As a result, the strongly emotive final scenes feel both weepy and self-pitying.
Fortunately, the cast is superb. The three actors who play Blake at various stages are excellent, although Firth struggles with some of the internalised scenes, mainly because of the way the screenwriter and director approach them. Stevenson gives another of her quietly rock-solid performances, seemingly contained in the margins of the film. And Broadbent is terrific as the larger-than-life but oblivious Arthur.
The film seems to hinge on a moment in 1989 when Blake receives a writing award, but his father just can't bring himself to say, "Well done." This lifelong lack of support is intriguingly balanced by the inexpressible love his family members feel for him, and which he presumably feels for them. There's an interesting film in here, looking at the realities of family connections, but Nicholls never gives us any kind of universal access. It always feels like we're watching someone else's story.