THE SENSE OF AN ENDING

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ritesh Batra

Stars: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Joe Alwyn, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Freya Mayo.

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Based on the 2011 novel written by British author Julian Barnes, The Sense Of An Ending is a meditation on memory, guilt, regret, secrets and repressed emotions and the dark unreliability of nostalgia. The drama was driven by an unreliable narrator and offered up a distorted view of its narrator’s personal history.

Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris, etc) plays Tony Webster, a semi-retired man who sells second hand cameras in his small shop. He is a bit of a grumpy old man, affectionately referred to as a curmudgeon by his ex-wife and heavily pregnant daughter Susie (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery). He is divorced from his lawyer wife Margaret (Harriet Walter, from Law & Order: UK, etc) but remains on good terms with her. One day he receives a letter from a lawyer. Tom has been named in the will of a girl he once dated while at university. She has bequeathed him a diary that was written by a former school friend who committed suicide.

Tom arranges with Veronica Ford (Charlotte Rampling, from 45 Years, etc) to negotiate the return of the diary. Long buried secretes from his adolescence surface and force him to confront some uncomfortable truths.

The novel has been adapted to the screen by playwright Nick Payne, and is fairly faithful to the source material. The film unfolds in two time frames. There are several extended flashbacks to Tony’s school years in the 1960s when he befriended several boys and developed a crush on a young Veronica (Freya Mayo). He spent several at Veronica’s parents’ estate and was intrigued by her mother (Emily Mortimer). He also befriended a new student in Adrian Finn (played by Joe Alwyn, from Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk, etc), but their friendship was marred by an act of betrayal. Tony was upset when Veronica and Adrian paired up, and he wrote a venomous letter. That letter is what haunts Tony now, and is one of the reasons why Veronica is reluctant to hand over the diary.

The Sense Of An Ending has been directed by Ritesh Batra, who previously gave us the charming Indian drama The Lunchbox a couple of years ago. His direction is low key and understated, and the film lacks any great dramatic moments. The tone is a little distant and melancholic and the pacing is slow. There is an enigmatic quality to much of the narrative here and, unlike the title, there doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory ending to Tony’s poisonous obsession with learning the secrets of the past and his search for redemption.

Broadbent’s performance is solid as usual, and he brings subtle touches to his portrayal of the flawed and narcissistic adult Tony who faces the consequences of a decision he made a long time ago. He earns our grudging sympathy. Billy Howie plays the younger Tony, and does a good job of capturing some of Broadbent’s mannerisms. Rampling brings an enigmatic quality to her performance as the older Veronica. She and Broadbent have a prickly chemistry and dynamic that brings an air of tension to the material. Walters is strong and sympathetic as Tony’s ex-wife.

The Sense Of An Ending is a film aimed at a more mature and adult audience who appreciate complex themes, multi-layered narratives and fine performances from great cast rather than special effects driven action movies with cliched and one-dimensional characters.

★★☆

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