The Sense of an Ending (15) ★★★☆☆
JULIAN Barnes’s 2011 Booker Prize-winning novel is brought to the screen by director Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) in thoughtful and understated fashion.
Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) is a curmudgeonly semi-retired man, divorced from still loyal ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and father to his very pregnant daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery).
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He shuffles his way through elderly life running a shop that sells vintage second-hand cameras, with a befuddled attitude towards modern technology and an ever-decreasing sense of purpose. One day he receives a letter regarding someone he had long since left in the past, discovering he has been legally bequeathed a diary. The trouble is the current possessor of the diary won’t give it up so easily.
This sudden nostalgic awakening causes him to ruminate on his past, visualised via illuminating flashbacks to Tony’s schooldays (therein played by Billy Howle) that seem to haunt the present-day drama in tantalizing fashion.
There we discover his admiration for intellectual classmate Adrian (Joe Alwyn) and budding young relationship to the alluring Veronica (Freya Mavor).
The trio’s lives become intertwined in singular and personally profound ways which have long-lasting ramifications.
The film quietly and seemingly without much of a fuss creeps up on you with its sense of understated dramatic payoffs, how past actions and words mean something even if we don’t quite realise it at the time.
In fact, it’s almost too restrained for its own good in some cases – you feel like there’s something altogether more earth-shattering at work here not quite brought to the surface, despite the implications of how these bubbling emotions should affect the characters.
The stellar cast imbue their characters with so much depth that they feel like genuine people rather than ideas of a cranky old man or a scorned ex or an expectant mother should be. Broadbent is particularly wonderful, taking what is an inherently unlikeable figure and making him rounded and deeply empathetic; he brings real colour to a polarising antagonistic whose cantankerous candour meets head-on with sentimental contemplation.
He’s at the heart of a film that tenderly deals with memory, nostalgia and the idea of rose-tinted youth slipping away, left to be pondered and romanticised amidst a life that doesn’t seem all that emotionally exciting in comparison. And that’s OK. “When you’re young you want your emotions to be like the ones you read about in books,” Tony tells us in thoughtful voice-over. “Later you want them to support your life as it has become.”
While it’s never quite as powerfully probing in its dramatic intentions as you might hope, the wistful, contemplative nature makes for a subtly involving trip down a troubled memory lane.