Tommy’s Honour Movie Review
Teachers’ Comments: As much family drama as golf movie.
Based on historical events, and on the 2006 book of the same title (although the spelling of Honor/Honour has changed), Tommy’s Honour is a dramatization of the lives of Old Tom and Young Tom Morris. (You can read my review of the Tommy’s Honor book here.)
Golf fans are no doubt familiar with the basic story. Old Tom Morris was the first true club pro, developing innovations in greens keeping, club building and course architecture (laying out Carnoustie, Cruden Bay, Muirfield, Royal County Down, Royal Dornoch among 60+ others) that make many consider him the Founding Father of the modern sport. Young Tom was a playing prodigy who won his first Open Championship at age 17, and went on to win four times in a row.
What many do not know is that their story is — at its core — a tragedy. I won’t go into the details on the off chance that it would be a spoiler for readers who do not already know the story. I will say, however, that the movie left Mrs. GolfBlogger in tears.
Tommy’s Honour is directed by Jason Connery (son of Sean), and stars Peter Mulligan as Old Tom and Jack Lowden as Young Tom. Sam Neil appears as the nominal villain who tries to stand in the way of Young Tom’s efforts to become a professional athlete. All put in great performances.
It strikes me that sports movies generally fall into four broad categories: comedies (Caddyshack, Bad News Bears); competitions (The Greatest Game, Rocky, Hoosiers); romances (Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Jerry Magure) and character studies (Raging Bull, Brian’s Song). A few manage to straddle two or more of those.
Tommy’s Honour falls squarely in the character study category. The dramatic tension in this movie is generated not from competition, but from the conflict between father and son; mother and son; mother and daugher-in-law; family and the town; lower class and upper class. It also has shades of the romance with the love story between Young Tom and Meg, a somewhat older servant girl. That’s part of what made Mrs. Golfblogger cry.
There is, of course, golf. Few would care about the troubles of a Scottish Victorian era working class family were it not for the championship golf. In scenes throughout the movie we see Old Tom and Young Tom in various competitions against the likes of Willie and Mungo Park, their chief rivals in those years. Young Tom is also shown in various exhibition matches, which generated considerable income. As a playing professional golfer, Young Tom earned as much in a month as most working class families earned in a year.
The golf scenes in Tommy’s Honour are understated, though. There are no shots from the golf ball’s point of view as it screams down the fairway. There are no super slow motion closeups of balls lipping out or rattling into the cup.
What golf the movie shows strikes me as authentic. Players use sand to tee it up. Their shots do not travel particularly far. Fairways are little more than pastures. Greens are cut to the the length of today’s fairways (perhaps even longer). Balls pop off putter faces, and bounce over uneven ground toward the hole. I cannot for the life of me figure out how anyone holed a ball from further than two feet under those conditions.
Courses in the movie are raw and primitive. And yet, the movie also shows how Old Tom was taking the first steps toward modern course management and design. In one scene, he and Young Tom are pulling gorse from the ground to make the field more playable. In another, Old Tom is laying out a course, describing his proposed hole as “two longs and a short.” The fairway’s path was marked with long feathers for cutting by workmen.
As the jobs of club pro, grounds keeper and course designer were being defined by Old Tom, Young Tom was defining the idea of professional player. His efforts brought him into conflict with upper class “gentlemen,” who saw the likes of the Morrises as little more than servants. A great deal is made of Young Tom’s efforts to trade on his golf skills for a living in the face of resistance from the upper class. Young Tom’s romance with Meg also shows the class differences between middlin’ Morrises and those they thought beneath them, even as they were beneath the gentry.
Tommy’s Honour is beautifully shot, with stark Scottish landscapes and appropriately quaint looking towns. The costumes also hit the mark for me. My only thought is that people of the time likely were a bit more dirty than they appeared in the movie.
Tommy’s Honor was for me a great experience and well worth the price of admission.
Strongly recommended for golf fans. Mostly recommended for non golfers.