The Sense of an End­ing

THE SENSE OF AN END­ING, drama, rated PG-13, Vi­o­let Crown, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

In a re­cent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Glo­ria Steinem med­i­tated on the term “chick flick” (“more di­a­logue than car chases, more re­la­tion­ships than spe­cial ef­fects”), and she pro­posed, as the male equiv­a­lent, the term “prick flick” (war, vi­o­lence, naked women). To those, let us pro­pose the ad­di­tion of an­other cat­e­gory: the “geri­atric flick” — movies that pro­vide em­ploy­ment for older ac­tors, in­tel­li­gent plot­lines for older view­ers, and maybe a touch of nos­tal­gia.

Ritesh Ba­tra, the Indian di­rec­tor who had crit­i­cal suc­cess a few years ago with The Lunch­box, makes his English-lan­guage de­but with this deft adap­ta­tion (with a screen­play by Nick Payne) of Ju­lian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker Prize-win­ning novel. In it, an el­derly man re­flects on re­la­tion­ships and choices he made in his youth and how they have af­fected his life and the lives of oth­ers.

The cast is first rate. Jim Broad­bent, sport­ing a griz­zled beard and look­ing a bit like Gene Hack­man, is Tony Web­ster (nicely played in youth by Billy Howle). Now in his seven­ties, Tony is a crusty old bach­e­lor who runs a tiny vin­tage-cam­era shop in Lon­don. He’s di­vorced from Mar­garet (a su­perb Har­riet Wal­ter), with whom he main­tains a close and de­pen­dent re­la­tion­ship, and he is also in­volved with his very preg­nant les­bian daugh­ter (Michelle Dock­ery, Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary).

When Tony gets a let­ter an­nounc­ing a be­quest of the di­ary of an old friend named Adrian ( Joe Al­wyn of Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk), it trig­gers a trip down mem­ory lane. We re­visit their univer­sity years, when Tony met the bril­liant, charis­matic Adrian, and the re­la­tion­ships that sur­rounded and in­formed their lives.

There are com­pli­ca­tions. The di­ary be­quest is not from Adrian, who is long de­ceased, but from the re­cently de­parted Sarah (Emily Mor­timer), the mother of Tony’s early girl­friend Veron­ica (Freya Ma­vor). It was Veron­ica who got Tony in­ter­ested in cam­eras and gave him his first Le­ica. Tony and Veron­ica’s re­la­tion­ship did not last long, and he found him­self re­placed in her af­fec­tions by Adrian. The flash­backs to that time a half cen­tury ago show us a lively, priv­i­leged, youth­ful lot, and that in­cludes Sarah, whose flir­ta­tious pres­ence puts her firmly in the mix. Why did she leave Adrian’s di­ary to Tony? Why did she have it?

And how does Tony get hold of it? Sarah’s will leaves it to him, but the di­ary is in the pos­ses­sion of Veron­ica (played in the present by Char­lotte Ram­pling), and she tells Tony she has burned it. In­stead, when they meet af­ter 50 years, she gives him a let­ter, one he wrote back at the time of their breakup. And it holds some clues — as to the kind of guy he was, and is, and the events that let­ter may have af­fected.

Time is the key to this prob­ing, thought­ful story about the se­lec­tive­ness and pro­tec­tive­ness of mem­ory. It holds up well in the trans­fer from page to screen, los­ing some of the in­ci­sive­ness of the for­mer but gain­ing from the work of its tal­ented vet­eran cast. — Jonathan Richards

Di­ary of a some­body: Char­lotte Ram­pling and Jim Broad­bent

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