Although the subject matter may not seem obviously appealing, it’s amazing what finely attuned directorial talent, scriptwriting finesse and superlative acting can achieve. Colin Firth stars as successful writer Blake Morrison, who treats his aging parents as something of a burden. When his overbearing, boorish father (the always reliable Jim Broadbent) becomes terminally ill, Morrison must reassess a relationship characterized by obscure resentments and frequent public humiliations. Was Morrison Sr. a bully and a shameless philanderer—or just a larger-than-life soul who always meant well? Juliet Stevenson plays Morrison’s long-suffering mother.
Based on Morrison’s bestselling 1993 memoir of the same title, the film took several years and various producers before Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley finally succeeded. The result is well worth the wait.
Although the established names acquit themselves with distinction, it is newcomer Matthew Beard who makes the deepest impression, capturing the awkwardness of the adolescent Morrison with a witty and assured performance. Anand Tucker, who was responsible for Hilary and Jackie, finds complete sympathy with the script by David Nichols ( Starter for Ten ). What emerges is an emotional, often hilarious examination of those convoluted family ties with which most of us can identify in some measure.
Although many films have struggled to match their literary source materials in terms of subtlety, When Did You Last See Your Father? generally gets it right. Just when you think it might be too dark for comfort, along comes some humor, proving that life’s grimmest moments can have their lighter side.
Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Matthew Beard, Juliet Stevenson, Gina McKee, Elaine Cassidy and Claire Skinner
Director: Anand Tucker
Screenwriter: David Nichols
Producers: Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, thematic material and brief strong language
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: May 9, 2008 NY/LA