I once had a wife who said I took on the character of the main star of movies I saw.
It was probably true?
No medium has more effect on my life than movies, sometimes for the better when you think for a moment you are Bond or Jason Bourne, others less so.
One of my proudest moments was sitting in a Kalgoorlie-Boulder cinema watching Jack Nicholson in his Academy Award-winning role as Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (1997). Melvin is a writer with OCD and, when he rudely dispatches a young Jewish couple from his usual table at his breakfast cafe, a fellow movie patron leaned across several rows and said rather loudly: “That’s you.”
There were mumblings of agreement from those about us.
In The Sense of an Ending (2017), Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, tellingly referred to as a curmudgeon by his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and pregnant-without-partner daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery).
Oxford defines curmudgeon as ‘a bad-tempered person, especially an old one’ and though one hopes this isn’t quite me – and to my mind, it was a bit harsh on Tony – it does gel a tad.
His impatience with a lawyer, who appears to be acting for everyone except Tony; his can’t-wait-to -get-rid-of a customer who is just looking; his treating the postman as a functionary rather than as a person; and his telling some noisy children off while trying to have a conversation in a restaurant are all examples of a bad-tempered old person (in most of these I was with him the whole way).
Tony lives alone, owns a shop selling vintage Leica cameras, has lunch alone in the park and his friends appear to number two men, known since school, his ex and his daughter. He refuses to embrace Facebook, email and other relatively recent social norms and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
When he receives a letter advising his first girlfriend’s mother has left him a diary in her will, it sets in train a revealing trip into his memory bank, seen through flashback, often repeated as the viewer is drip-fed information about this past.
Tony finds his memory of what happened is far different from actual events and learns a lot about himself on this trail of discovery.
Part of the film’s charm is this drawing out of Tony’s feelings. What he once thought of as behaving nobly in the face of being cuckolded by a very dynamic schoolboy friend, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), turns out to be shameful, leading to events he could not have foreseen.
Enter the former girlfriend, Veronica Ford (Charlotte Rampling, as luminous as ever). Veronica says she has destroyed the diary and Tony accepts this rather well but then he follows her and discovers further secrets.
This annoys his confidante Margaret, who declares him a stalker and it is obvious that Tony’s youthful, unrequited love for Veronica has always been a sticking point in their former marriage.
“My wife accused me of building a shrine to you’” Tony tells Veronica when they meet for coffee. It was Veronica who gave Tony his first Leica and he has developed a shop, business and career from contact with this famous brand.
Revealing too much of the story line would ruin it for those who haven’t seen it. There were film club members who thought the plot thin and stretched to accommodate a simple tale. Thus, telling more would ruin any surprises which gave the movie its interest.
However, The Sense of an Ending has many charms. It depicted parts of London most of us see on holiday; the acting was to-be-expected-good considering the cast; and the story of a prominent novel by Julian Barnes probably satisfied most.