Tommy’s Honour and a cen­tury and a half of mal­prac­tice

Muir­field fra­ter­nity in the spot­light as film re­lease points to chang­ing times

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FEATURE - KEVIN FERRIE

HETHER by ac­ci­dent or de­sign the themes which per­me­ate the work that launched this year’s Ed­in­burgh Film Fes­ti­val could hardly be more pre­scient as Scot­tish golf clubs seek to ad­dress a cen­tury and a half of mal­prac­tice.

Wed­nes­day evening’s pre­miere of Tommy’s Honour was a grand af­fair at the cap­i­tal’s Fes­ti­val Theatre and its mer­its as a movie will be ex­am­ined by those bet­ter qual­i­fied to do so.

It is, in essence, a love story and to those who have vis­ited St Rule’s Ceme­tery, as my fam­ily did even be­fore I knew there were golf cour­ses in St An­drews, its ba­sic el­e­ments are well known, while for those who do not know it any fur­ther de­scrip­tion would rep­re­sent some­thing of a plot spoiler.

Just as there was when The Her­ald gained ex­clu­sive ac­cess last year to St An­drews Univer­sity’s dis­cov­ery of the only known pho­to­graph of the younger Tom Mor­ris (who dom­i­nated the early com­pet­i­tive golf scene in the mid-to-late 19th cen­tury) swing­ing a club on the links, there will be those who seek to ques­tion as­pects of the film’s au­then­tic­ity.

Just as his­to­ri­ans at the univer­sity ex­plained that it would have been nec­es­sary for Tommy to hold a pose that var­ied from his nor­mal swing in or­der to ac­com­mo­date the lengthy ex­po­sure re­quired by pho­tog­ra­phers of the 1870s, so quib­bling about the soft­en­ing of north east Fife ac­cents in or­der to en­gage the widest pos­si­ble au­di­ence is far less rel­e­vant than the be­hav­iour of the main char­ac­ters and what that seeks to tell us.

Ad­mit­tedly there has to be a sus­pi­cion that if Tommy’s mother was able to de­fend her­self she might take ex­cep­tion to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of her sever­ity as, if mem­ory serves, Jen­nie Lid­dell, the sis­ter of Eric, did when that other great pro­mo­tional tool for the Auld Grey Toon, Char­i­ots of Fire, be­came a world­wide suc­cess the best part of 40 years ago.

The un­likely na­ture of such a high per­cent­age of the shots that had to be ne­go­ti­ated and which re­sulted in mir­a­cle re­cov­er­ies that would have been be­yond Seve Balles­teros or Phil Mick­el­son even with the best of mod­ern equip­ment can mean­while be ex­cused as a filmic de­vice, but while there is also a car­toon­ish el­e­ment in the por­trayal of the be­hav­iour of those who car­ried in­flu­ence in the sport and so­ci­ety at the time, car­i­ca­ture is, of course, sim­ply a case of ac­cen­tu­at­ing ex­ist­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics.

What makes the snob­bery and pom­pos­ity that Sam Neill ex­em­pli­fies as cap­tain of the R&A all the more telling is that the film is di­rected by a man who is the son of the R&A’s most fa­mous mem­ber, Sean Con­nery, who also achieved what he has from hum­ble be­gin­nings as a for­mer milk­man who was him­self the son of a fac­tory worker and a cleaner and, cu­ri­ously, was widely known as Tommy, then Big Tam, in his younger days.

Ja­son Con­nery, son of Sean, de­picts the R&A as an ap­palling group of grasp­ing up­per-mid­dle class chancers who mis­take such ir­rel­e­vances as ac­cents and dress codes for marks of true gen­til­ity.

The sneer­ing, cheat­ing golfers of East Loth­ian also get harsh treat­ment, which makes the de­ci­sion to choose the word “honour” in the film’s ti­tle seem very de­lib­er­ate. At a time when the at­ti­tudes that con­tinue to af­flict the area’s most fa­mous club at Muir­field course (that was, iron­i­cally, de­signed by Tommy’s fa­ther ‘Old Tom’ – played in the film by the wonderful Peter Mul­lan, mus­ter­ing ev­ery ounce of gruff­ness and poignancy in his for­mi­da­ble ar­moury) are be­ing ex­am­ined in ways they should have been many years ago.

The con­trast with, for all their in­ter-gen­er­a­tional fric­tion, the dig­nity and in­tegrity the Mor­rises are seen to rep­re­sent is doubt­less ex­ag­ger­ated and pos­si­bly un­fair, just as it is wrong to think that the Honourable Com­pany of Ed­in­burgh Golfers’ bungling of their vote on whether to al­low women to

Pic­ture: St An­drews Univer­sity

MO­MENT IN TIME: The unique pho­to­graph dis­cov­ered last year of Young Tom Mor­ris on the links at St An­drews. PREMIER PALS: Jack Low­den (left) and Peter Mul­lan at­tend the world pre­miere of Tommy’s Honour, at the Fes­ti­val Theatre in Ed­in­burgh. Pic­ture: PA

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