Jim Broadbent gives a wonderful performance as an imperfect Father. The relationship between the son and father is strained at the best of times. As the son grows from childhood, to his teens and then to an adult the audience feels his guilt, his despair, his humiliation and the choices his father makes that impact on the family. As an adult (Colin Firth) craves his fathers love and praise, as he hardly got any in his childhood or youth. Nothing seems to have changed over the years. Then the son really begins to 'see' his father with all his vunerabilities and weaknesses...
Blake; a writer of some critical success still feels like a little boy wanting the approval of his dad instead of the snide remarks about how much he could be earning if he'd followed in the family footsteps and become a doctor. But when faced with the imminent mortality of his old man, he starts to reflect on the times when he really knew his father rather than the recent past of well-intentioned but infrequent fleeting visits.
With a solid cast and the promise of a poignant story - this film should have been utterly engaging, but it just fails to hit the mark. Jim Broadbent is superb as the overbearing Arthur. He manages to make an adulterating dad into what is actually a lovable character - we see his flaws, we see the agony he is causing, but life isn't black and white and we also see through his blustery façade to witness the loving dad inside. It's when the film gives us flashbacks to Blake's youth that this film really shines, but the scenes set in the present day just seem to lack the warmth and interest of the rest of the film.
Colin Firth is underused in the film. His scenes aren't bad, but as they all take place in during the contemporary moments of the film there's always a desire for them to finish so that we can delve back into the Blake's childhood. The interesting subplots aren't that interesting enough to make you want to watch on.
In a nutshell: The trailers and the feature itself build up to suggest that the core of the film involves a father and son finally getting together to talk, or open up, or to acknowledge each other in some enlightening way, but I don't feel that was ever delivered. I wanted that to happen, I was waiting for it, and when the credits rolled I felt a bit cheated. This is an `okay' film which should have been a lot better. If the film had either concentrated more on the past, or developed the modern day aspect better, then `When Did You Last See Your Father' would have made a great impression. Though it was refreshing to see the film rely more on humour than depressing negativity, the family history was fascinating to watch - it made me smile with their nostalgia, and I enjoyed the performances of the central cast. It is a touching film, it is an emotional film - that's expected from the subject matter, but the truth is that it wasn't as special as I hoped it would be.
Although I haven't read the book that this film was based on, I went to see it at the cinema, and I don't remember crying as much at any film for quite a while. I guess the subject matter is likely to be emotive to most people, as we all have parents and will have to confront their mortality at some point in our lives, along with the complicated relationships that we have had with them. Nevertheless, the film is well realised, with strong central performances from it's two central characters (the wonderful Jim Broadbent and the under-rated Colin Firth).
Thematically this film is reminiscent of Tim Burton's wonderful "Big Fish" in many ways. The key difference (apart from the lack of all the fantasy scenes) is it's sheer Englishness, and although all that repressed emotion might leave some people a bit cold, as an English male myself, it moved me greatly. Let me put it this way: being the way I am, I already know that I will never be able to tell my father to his face that I love him (or discuss with him many things from the past that feel unresolved), and yet I also know that one day he will pass away and that I'll wish that I had! If you find that crazy, you probably aren't a repressed Englishman like me...if you can relate to what I've just said, however, then this film will speak volumes to you, and when Firth's character finally breaks down, you will probably find yourself doing the same and having a good old cathartic cry!
Having said all that, I expect that there is much in this film for everyone, as it is a sensitive subject handled well, and perhaps the best English film that I've seen this year. Recommended.
No, I didn't cry at Bambi, Babe or even The Search for Spock, but I met the end credits of this movie with tears rolling....Beautifully acted, very believable and it would be a hard person indeed that could remain unmoved. Highly recommended. I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. Well worth a viewing.........
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.