Movie Review: ‘When Did You Last See Your Father?’

By: 
John Thomas

A silver Alvis cabriolet is setting in a long queue waiting to enter the car park of a racetrack. The driver, Arthur Morrison (Jim Broadbent), is impatiently pounding on the steering wheel and cursing – he fears missing any part of the race. His wife Kim (Juliet Stevenson), calmly gazes at the Yorkshire landscape around them. Their two children are cringing in the back seat.

Finally Arthur has had enough. He grabs a stethoscope in one hand and the steering wheel in the other and accelerates into the oncoming traffic lane. Waving the stethoscope to the annoyed drivers they pass, Arthur shouts, “I’m a doctor.” Although the family’s tickets don’t allow entrance to this restricted area, he bamboozles their way in.

Arthur’s signature bullying, blustering and boorish behavior is directed to everyone – his son, however, feels it more keenly. As a child, through his young adulthood and into being a successful writer, Blake Morrison (Colin Firth) carries the burden of his father’s mockery. At more tender moments in the past, Arthur would refer to him as “fathead.” There were times although, of great hilarity and bonding between the two.

Arthur and Blake are out for a drive in the Alvis when suddenly Arthur pulls onto an empty stretch of beach and jumps from the car. He heads toward the passenger seat, tossing the keys to Blake who is about to have his first driving lesson – a thrilling experience to say the least. Blake’s first attempt at romance doesn’t go as well. Hoping for a snuggle and kiss from their new maid in her room, Arthur blasts in unannounced.

Arthur’s own extramarital dalliances are occasionally hinted at, but as with his frequent irritating behavior, they are sidestepped by Arthur and Kim. Blake and his younger sister, however, are not as naive to these affairs. His business dealings occasionally come into question but are also swept aside with the shrug of a shoulder, wave of a hand and a hearty ha, ha, ha!

As Blake matures, he finds it increasingly more difficult to tolerate is father’s behavior to the point of not even liking him. His father’s ridicule only intensifies as Blake’s stature as a writer mushrooms. Even while at a ceremony honoring him, Arthur stands in the rear of the hall making snide comments about Blake’s books and his future as a writer.

In his later years, Arthur contracts cancer and eventually becomes bedridden. Blake has very mixed feelings about leaving his own wife, children and career to return to his childhood home during his father’s remaining days. He finally acquiesces and joins his mother and sister as they struggle to deal with this trying situation – not made easier by Arthur’s relentless cantankerous behavior.

Lonely walks around the Yorkshire countryside allow Blake to reminisce about the good and the ugly times with his father, those moments he wishes to forget and times he is determined to always remember. How will he see his father in the future?

Directed by Anand Tucker (Credits: Indian Summers, Leap Year), this “should see,” 92-minute film is based on the autobiographical novel by Philip Blake Morrison.

johan@beachomber.news

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