Nutshell: A bit too light of a touch with Tommy’s backstory starts the film off with a slight handicap, and a lack of character development (as well as golf basics for non-players) often lands the plot in the weeds. But with a strong finish in the short game, Honour makes par. A must-view for any golf lover, and a definite go-to for fans of indie biopics. Grade: B
“Your station in life was set before you were born, young Morris.”
Story: A brash youngster breaks onto the golf scene, innovating the entire sport. No, I’m not talking about Tiger Woods. I’m talking about Tommy “Young Tom” Morris, widely considered to be the best golfer of the 19th Century. As headstrong Tommy begins to carve a name out for himself in professional golf – a brand-new specialty at the time – he and his forelock-tugging father “Old Tom” begin to re-invent golf, turning it into the sport duffers know and love. (Spoiler: as Tommy tragically died at age 24, keep Kleenex on hand.)
Genre I’d put it in: Slow Building But Heart Tugging Sports Biopics
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on Kevin Cook’s award-winning book Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son.
Gotta say: Ever wonder how golf became such a popular sport? Well, folks in Scotland would roll their eyes and say it was always meant to be…but in the late 19th Century, it was only starting to gain traction outside Scotland in a few areas in England. Enter Tom and Tommy Morris, the father and son who, while disagreeing on how golf should go on, manage to better the game in many ways. Those grooves on an Iron? The design of many famous courses in Scotland? The “hop and stop” putt? You’re welcome, say the Morris family.
Directed by Jason Connery (yep, Sean’s son), Honour dives right into the story, and viewers who don’t know much – or anything – about these men, or golf, need to just hang on for the ride. Things begin to flesh out as the story progresses, but as someone who’d never heard of these two, it took a bit of mental running to catch up with things. But there are moments in Honour that show that Connery can become a first-class director; quiet scenes with Young Tom and Meg, moments where Young Tom butts heads with the golf (and literal) aristocracy. And of course the moments between father and son, from misunderstandings to mutual respect. It’s a flicker now, but I look forward to more indie work from this director.
The too-light touch on backstory and characterization can’t be left solely at Connery’s feet; first-time screenwriter Pamela Marin has a fine way with character interaction, but not so much with providing a solid backdrop. Kevin Cook, who penned the biography, apparently gave historical touches, but was perhaps too close to the subject matter to remember that many viewers will be wholly unfamiliar with the material.
Luckily, wonderful performances by Jack Lowden (2016’s War and Peace) as Tommy, Ophelia Lovibond (Elementary) as his wife Meg, and Peter Mullan (Red Riding) as Tom, cement the story when the plot slices when it should head for the green. As Young Tom heads towards his 24th year, things begin to get heart-tuggy, and this cast manages to keep things from becoming overly maudlin. In fact, if you’re not tearing up in the final twenty minutes, I don’t want to know you. Bravo, Lowden, Lovibond, and Mullan.
I do absolutely adore the art direction, costuming here. And Honor having the great St. Andrews is super-cool for golf wannabes like me, while being a gorgeous backdrop for the action regardless of your level of knowledge on the sport.
My advice? Read up on Old Tom and Young Tom, and then catch this film. Or better still, read Cook’s biography of the two, and then hit the theater. You’ll have a solid backstory to shore up the film’s weaker one, and can simply sit back and enjoy the performances. And then hit the local putt-putt to remind yourself that while pro golfers make things look easy, that windmill is freakin’ hard.
#Protip: Tommy Morris is ranked the 14th best golfer of all time. His father is ranked the 19th. Not too shabby, especially with all the advances in technology in the past few centuries.