And who is Tommy? Actually, there are two Tom Morrises in this film, the old and the junior. And anyone who knows the history of golf will be able to identify them immediately.
This is very much a golfing film, a film for enthusiasts for the sport and with a knowledge of its history. Non–golf-fans may well feel on the outer as they watch the film, allowing for the fact that there will be details of tournaments, strokes and difficulties, achievements. But they will acknowledge that this film offers significant golf history.
The setting is 19th century Scotland and information is given at the end about the careers of the Morrises as well as a number of photos of the actual characters, a reminder that Tommy Morris Jr is considered the greatest golfer of the 19th century. And his father who lived to the age of 85, was the designer of over 70 golf courses.
So, who were the Morrises and where did they live? Actually at St Andrews – so not far to go for play. The film opens in the 1860s and moves into the 1870s with Tommy Morris national champion at the age of 17 and winning four successive championships before he was 21.
The important theme for the film is that of class in British society in the 19th century. The Morris family were servant class. Old Tom Morris was seen as a servant, working as groundskeeper and caddy for the Lord of the manor. And this was the world into which his children were born. And it is very clear that they were to keep their place, that they were often told that they were not gentlemen, that they could never become members of the golf club at St Andrews, that they were paid to play by the aristocracy who bet on their success.
Tommy Morris Jr was something of a rebel, sometimes defying his father, who was always very proud of him and his achievement, challenging the local aristocrat, demanding more professional payment, but always treated humiliatingly as a person.
There is a Scots humane story underlying Tommy’s Honour, the dour Scots family life with its churchgoing and Bible reading, a very stern mother, young Tommy attracted by a local servant girl, six years his senior, defending her reputation, marrying her, her pregnancy.
Veteran Scots actor, Peter Mullan, is the older Thomas. Jack Lowdon, young and brash, brings Tommy Morris Jr to vivid life. Ophelia Lovibond is Meg, his wife, also humiliated as a servant but also powerfully defying Tommy’s rather puritanical mother. Sam Neill is the local aristocrat.
It is a film for sports lovers and golfers will personally be interested in the history, in the influence of the Morrises and the development of the contemporary sport. For others, watching the film might be a bit like being a member of the crowds who tag along, moving from hole to hole.
(A bit of Scots history. The film was directed by Jason Connery, actor and director with an Australian mother, Diane Cilento, and a Scots father, Sean Connery.)
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting