I’m not a big fan of golf, particularly in Southern California and other areas of the Southwest where desert land is forcibly remade into shockingly green water-wasting oases, but I did like this historical drama, “Tommy’s Honour” which tells about the life of two early pioneers of modern golf: Scottish golf champions “Old” Tom Morris and his son “Young” Tom Morris.
Scotland is a place that is more often damp than dry, where rain comes often and in different forms. In the winter, there is snow, but not the kind one can ski on. “Tommy’s Honour” takes into account the weather and it plays a dramatic part in golf and the honor of both Scotland and the Morris family.
Based on Kevin Cook’s 2007 book, “Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son,” the tale begins in St. Andrews, Scotland sometime before 1908 and then flashes back to 1866.
For Americans, the Civil War had ended just a year before in 1865. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of that year. In March of 1866 Congress passed the first federal law to protect the rights of African Americans, the Civil Rights Act of 1866. (President Andrew Johnson attempted to veto the bill.) Queen Victoria had not yet become the Empress of India (that would happen in 1876), but she was 29 and had been a widow since 1861. In July of 1866, her third daughter, Princess Helena married Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.
This was very much a time when the aristocracy still had great influence and one of the points of the movie is that originally golfers were under the sponsorship of the wealthy.
The story is told by an old man, a Tom Morris, who has been sought out by a reporter. Going back to 1866, Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) is 15, learning golf from this father, Tom Morris (Peter Mullan) who is the greens-keeper for The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. That position isn’t enough to support a family of six, so he must also work as the club and ball-maker, something that Tommy is also learning. Old Tom is the founder of “The Open Championship, the first major golf tournament.
Old Tom was not the first winner, that would go to Willie Park. Old Tom was the first back-to-back winner (1861, 1862). He would go on to win again in 1864 and 1867–when he would be and still is the championship’s oldest winner at 46 years and 102 days. Yet in 1868, his son, Young Tom, became the youngest winner at 17 (and 156 days). Young Tom would then win the next two years (1868 and 1870) and the 1872 competition (1871 was cancelled) and still holds the record of most consecutive wins.
Young and, as portrayed here by Scottish actor Lowden, dashing, Young Tom soon becomes a sensation on the golf scene attracting crowds. At the time, golfers played and “earned” money for the upper classes and aristocracies, here represented by Sam Neill as Alexander Boothby, the leader of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. The big money decided on how much of the winnings the actual winner of the tournaments earned. That’s what keeps Old Tom poor despite being a champion.
Young Tom means to change that, despite his father’s trepidation and discouragement. Using his popularity and without the burden of a family to hinder negotiations, Young Tom transforms the golf tournament system into one where the actual players get large purses instead of pittances, paving the way for today’s professional golf circuits and big money making awards.
Fate has a different ideas for Young Tom, who goes against social stigma to romance and marry a woman older than him Ophilia Lovibond as Meg Drinnen), despite her “sinful” past. This only make us love him more.
While everyone loves Young Tom, he must contend with the real rough of the old golf greens and the Scottish weather. While pleasant enough in the summer with long days and romantic mists, the winter is a different story.
Mullan won a Best Actor Award in 1998 at the Cannes Film Festival for Ken Loach’s “My Name Is Joe.” He won a World Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Breakout Performances in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival for “Tyrannosaur” and appeared in the 1996 “Trainspotting,” the 2011 “War Horse” and the Harry Potter film “Deathly Hallows” as Yaxley.
Lowden previously was the tragic hero in another story about class change: The 2016 BBC production of “War & Peace,” playing Natasha’s (Lily James) older brother Nikolai. Nikolai ends up coming under the influence of a frenemy (Dolokhov) and must marry for money. In “Tommy’s Honour,” he’s a tragic figure, filled with life and promise at the start. Both Toms changed golf and their records amazingly still stand.
The movie is for golf-lovers and, for those who don’t love the sport, the movie might makes one better appreciate golf as a sport, played where it was meant to be played. Overall, Jason Connery, a golfer who was introduced to the game by his father, the more famous Sean Connery, does a competent job of giving us an era and understanding of the tensions. Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook’s screenplay plays it safe and this is suitable for families with older children. It’s PG rating is due to suggestive material, language and smoking. The movie won the 2016 British Academy Scotland Awards Best Feature Film and Lowden was nominated for Best Film Actor.