UK Release Date: 14th April 2017
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Ritesh Batra
Writer: Nick Payne
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Charlotte Rampling, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode
Synopsis: A curmudgeonly old man is forced to re-examine a huge, pivotal moment from his past when he is bequeathed the diary of an old school friend in a woman’s will.
British cinema seems to have spent a lot of the last few years chasing a certain kind of cinemagoer. These are the retired folk who flood cinemas during the week, taking advantage of deals that promise a cinema trip and a cup of tea for a fiver on a rainy Wednesday morning. Thankfully, this corner of the cinema audience has provided us all with a selection of very entertaining films in recent years, including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Lady in the Van. Next in that vein is The Sense of an Ending, which is an adaptation of the novel of the same name that won the 2011 Booker Prize. It’s a movie with more edge than you’d perhaps expect and an interesting perspective on how we whitewash our own personal stories.
Divorced dad Tony (Jim Broadbent) finds himself transported back into his past (where he is played by Billy Howle) when he learns that the mother of his former girlfriend Veronica (Freya Mavor) has left him a diary in her will. Back in the present, Tony confides in ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) that his history with Veronica is more complicated than he first suggested. He decides that he must track down Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) in order to get hold of the diary and lay to rest the ghosts of his past before they tear apart his present.
The Sense of an Ending is an unusual movie in that, though it unfolds at the kind of gentle pace you’d expect from this kind of story, it also has spiky edges and a prickly tone. We experience the film through the eyes of our central protagonist, who is the very definition of an unreliable narrator. This is his take on his own life, which doesn’t always reflect the truth and irons out his own personal flaws, while accentuating other characters based on his views of them. We see Mavor’s young Veronica as the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl because, to Tony, she was the embodiment of that trope.
From director Ritesh Batra, The Sense of an Ending finds real intrigue in his unreliable protagonist, played brilliantly as a young man by Billy Howle and as a pensioner by Jim Broadbent. Broadbent, especially, fits his part like a glove as an avuncular, but grumpy old man, nursing dark secrets beneath his quaint exterior. He’s a man weighed down by his secrets and racked with the guilt of a life lived with the knowledge that he may well have done something awful as a younger man.
Charlotte Rampling, too, does a stellar job when she pops up as a considerably more real incarnation of Mavor’s character. She’s every bit as dreamlike and inscrutable, but there’s a take no prisoners attitude to her that shows real steel. Rampling’s presence and the ‘grey pound’ tone creates inevitable comparisons to her work in 45 Years and there are definitely similarities. For me, the compelling twists of the narrative here outweigh the slow burn of Andrew Haigh’s film, but there’s a nagging sense that the actual machinations of the plot never quite satisfy the palate-whetting mystery conjured by the script.
That’s not to say, though, that The Sense of an Ending ever feels like a film that’s lacking in drama. It’s a consistently involving tale given real gravitas by the talented roster of performers. The page-turning plot might not pay off in an entirely satisfying way, but there’s a consistent charm to the movie and it has more than a few surprises up its tweed, sensibly-coloured sleeve.
Pop or Poop?
Jim Broadbent is the grumpy, entertaining centre of Ritesh Batra’s complex, involving storytelling in The Sense of an Ending. It’s a very well-cast movie with an intriguing spin on the idea of the unreliable narrator and a plot that, while not quite living up to its promise, certainly has plenty to keep the audience interested.
It’s perhaps a little too slow and stately for its own good and there’s no real pay-off to the enigmatic portrayal of the Veronica character but, as a drama about flawed humanity, it tells its story very well indeed.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.