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A study of father-son relationship
on 15 February 2008
This film is based on a memoir written by Blake Morrison and concerns his relationship between his father and himself. Arthur (Jim Broadbent) , a family doctor, develops cancer and Blake returns to the family home. The period up to and just after Arthur's death shows Blake looking back, via flashbacks involving Blake (Colin Firth) as a boy and as a young man. His memories are of an extrovert, loud man who really takes little interest in his son and his achievements. He is not portrayed as a bad or vicious but as a father who rarely recognises his son's individuality. He does not respect his son's views, his privacy or seem to care about what he feels. He is self-absorbed in a jovial way. In addition to this, Blake discovers his father has been unfaithful to his mother and this leads to other important questions for Blake. During Arthur's terminal illness, he experiences the burden of reconciling his negative feelings about his father and the emotions he thinks he should feel to his dying parent.
There are several faults that I think reduce the impact of this enjoyable film. Blake's mother (Juliet Stevenson) is a cipher. She has little to say and we hardly know her better at the end than we do at the beginning. 'Downtrodden' and 'long suffering' would be a good description of her by only in the sense that she is married to a man not sensitive to people around him. I thought the character development rather thin though they are not in the least cardboard cut-outs. The music was atrocious, in my view - too loud, drowning out dialogue on a number of occasions and somehow often inappropriate to what was going on on-screen. Gushing, romantic 1950s Hollywood was out of place in what was an intimate drama. Finally, there was a scene of outrageous schmalz near the end, with the camera rotating 360 degrees round and round the characters, music just short of heavenly choirs and sunlit uplands. It struck a false note and was, to use a word I rarely use, vulgar.
I have not Blake Morrison's book so maybe my criticisms are unfair. There are some very funny bits, like the camping expedition, and it is very well acted and well photographed. The time shifts are not at all confusing because Blake looks very different in the periods covered.
The title of the film is taken from the famous painting. I take it to mean that Blake, because of the claustrophobic nature of families,his own immaturity and simple lack of information, did not see his father for what he was - a man with failings and one who could not express the love he felt, despite his apparently extrovert nature.
Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this film and would recommend it.