Cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Emily Mortimer, Joe Alwyn, James Wilby, Edward Holcroft, Peter Wight, Jack Loxton Hilton McRae, Timothy Innes, Andrew Buckle
Director: Ritesh Batra
Adapted for the screen by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning novella, The Sense of an Ending, Ritesh Batra’s new film of the same name, is a nostalgia-ridden drama about human relationships, which strongly reminds me of the 2015 film 45 Years in which Charlotte Rampling played a woman who is adversely affected by her husband’s old love.
Memory, ageing and truth are staples for Barnes/Batra and the luminous Rampling reprises the 45 Years role more or less for Batra who suggests that we can never be strangers in that strange land called the past which can still exert influence, perhaps unbeknownst to us.
They say history repeats itself and that few learn from past mistakes. But it’s also said that it’s never too late to learn. Thankfully so, for Londoner and vintage camera shop owner, Tony (Jim Broadbent, mesmerising) Webster whose life swerves from a well-grooved path of mundane regularity to one of self-awareness and self-discovery.
Senior citizen Tony is divorced, amicably, from no-nonsense wife Margaret, and makes an effort to support their 36-year-old unmarried daughter, Susie (Michelle “Downton Abbey” Dockery) who has chosen artificial insemination since her biological clock is ticking away.
It’s not clear if Sue is lesbian. But why am I thinking of Tony Armstrong, the photographer who married Princess Margaret, younger sister of Britain’s Queen? The trouble with Tony, as Margaret reminds him is that he is never wholly there for his family.
As in 45 Years, the lead character keeps silent about a youthful romance. Then, as in Batra’s critically acclaimed The Lunchbox, the plot device that galvanises the protagonist, is a letter, a lawyer sends him from Sarah (Emily The Newsroom Mortimer) Ford, the (deceased) mother of the young photographer veronica (Freya Mavor) that the collegian Tony (Billy Howle) had fallen in love with, half a century ago.
Tony learns that Sarah left him a little money and the diary of Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn) who used to be Tony’s best friend before he stole Veronica. Adrian seemed the smartest in philosophy class and in discussions of a classmate’s suicide over a meal (lots of lunches in the film) coolly quote Camus’s assertion that suicide is the only ‘true’ philosophical question.
But what about Religion? History? Ethics? Politics? The tragedy of a second suicide becomes apparent to the viewer and Tony himself who has a penchant for being economical with the truth.
Does that mean he’s a liar? No. Only someone with the kind of sensibility that conveniently ‘forgets’ or ignores his own role in hurting the people he loved and who loved him.
Batra adroitly helms a brilliant cast in a compelling narrative that juggles the past and the present (in a beautifully shot England) The ending could have been bittersweet, dear reader. Your reviewer is glad it’s not. You see, Tony tells his wife and daughter, truthfully at last, “You and Susie are the most important people in my life”. You’d be glad too, gentle reader, the film ends on a note of hope.