The Sense of an Ending (2017)
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walker, Michelle Dockery, Freya Mavor, Billy Howle, Emily Mortimer, Joe Alvyn, Matthew Goode
UK | Drama | 108 min.
The past is how we choose to remember it and sometimes significant events are forgotten or edited out. This is the premise of Julian Barnes’ 2011 Booker Prize winning novella that explores the psyche of a quintessential Englishman and his selective memories of youth.
Thoughtfully adapted here by Ritesh Batra and Nick Payne, THE SENSE OF AN ENDING is an oddly dispassionate film in many ways, not least because the characters are so repellent thornily portrayed by the superbly subtle support trio of Rampling, Walter and Dockery with a nuanced Jim Broadbent as Tony Webster, the main focus. The narrative is certainly gripping and keeps us invested in Barnes’ intricate storytelling but the lacklustre flashbacks, so key to informing the plot, are actually the weakest part in the film making it often hard to follow. These 1960s scenes are teasingly repressive and somehow miss the beat – it could have been much more vibrant and witty.
The story revolves around Tony Webster, divorced and busily keeping life at bay as the proprietor of a small speciality camera shop in leafy North London. An unfruitful foray into passionate love during his college years has sent him scurrying for cover and after coasting through his marriage to QC Margaret (Walter), which produced a (now pregnant) lesbian daughter Susie (Dockery), he has managed to avoid emotional entanglements of any kind and although he enjoys Margaret’s caustic company over dinner he still doesn’t get why their marriage is over.
But the past returns to haunt Tony when Sarah leaves him a strange bequest in her will, encouraging him to track down his enigmatic first love Veronica Ford who is still as evasive as ever in responding to his requests. Their eventual meeting drudges up an unfortunate episode that Tony had chosen to forget and reveals how the Young Tony (Howle) fell for the ambivalent Veronica (Mavor) during an awkward weekend at her family home in rural England, where he is entranced by Veronica’s mother Sarah (played by a winsomely suggestive Emily Mortimer). Tony discovers subsequently that Veronica has taken up with his maverick friend Adrian (Alvyn) – who fancies himself as a cool Camus-quoiting intellectual (who later commits suicide). Unimpressed by love and bewildered by his feelings for Veronica, Tony is forced to confront a past that offers the key to his future.
According to Margaret and Susie Tony has become an emotional avoidant dinosaur, a ‘curmudgeon’ who regards the modern world with disdain. Having successfully cleansed his memory of any wrongdoing regarding Veronica – and subsequently Margaret – his self-glorification shows him up to be exactly the same person he was as a young man: an arrogant bystander, proud to have chosen a life in his shell.
Suicide, sexual repression and unrequited love are themes of incendiary dramatic potential yet this is a film that trades passion for emotional repression and quintessential English poignance. Clearly, Tony has lost contact with his feelings and shut the door on romance without even realising the effect this has had on his wife and family. But Tony’s emotional day of reckoning will strangely be the making of him. MT
OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 APRIL 2017