Jim Broadbent stars as aging vintage camera salesman Tony Webster in this fairly run of the mill adaptation of the Julian Barnes novella by the same name. Barnes' story was just over 100 pages in paperback, so turning it into a movie where minutes match the page count was either going to work brilliantly or drag a little. Sadly, the dragging is there for all to see, as the film plods along towards it's fairly satisfying but ultimately inevitable conclusion.
Tony lives alone, following a fairly amicable separation from his wife Margaret (Harriet Walter). He still sees his wife and also his grown daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), who happens to be pregnant. Whilst dealing with the fact that these are the only two significant women he has in his life, he receives a letter to say a blast from the past has died and has left Tony a diary in their will. The diary belonged to an old school chum, who for various reasons ended up walking a different path in life to Tony. The trouble is Tony can't get his hands on the diary because the daughter of the woman who died is holding it back. Cue a long and tedious journey into Tony's past which uncovers secrets that aren't quite as clever or as deep as they first seem to be. By the time the credits roll you can't help but wonder what it was all for. Were it not for Broadbent's strong performance this would be instantly forgettable.
There is a little intrigue along the way, it's only natural after all when certain plot points hinge on a revelation that you know will be paid off, to want closure on them. Yes, their are a few twists and turns but they are fairly pedestrian. Sadly, the greatest problem with this film is that the acting is simply awful. Long stretches are set in the 60s, during Tony's school days. Every single cast member from this time period (including I'm sorry to say Emily Mortimer) are shockingly bad. That kind of British-bad we see so often, when a film tries just too hard to be British it comes across as fucking infuriating. For example, the postman (whose Asian but speaks like he grew up in Hugh Grant's house) chats cheerily with Tony whenever he delivers the mail and even comes in for tea. Fuck off will you, this isn't Postman Pat!
Billy Howle who plays the young Tony is excruciatingly bad. He's so wooden Orlando Bloom looks positively explosive by comparison. It's such a shame that the film couldn't have been set entirely in the modern day as this is what's actually interesting. The present day mystery might even be all the more effective if all we had were hints at the past. To see it all spelled out and in such a dull way was pointless and frustrating. That being said, one of the better moments of the film did actually stem form a scene in the past, beginning with the words 'Dear bitch!'.
Broadbent is great in all his scenes, even when the forced humour doesn't quite work. He's clearly stuck with a script and is trying to do his best with it. Scenes set in Highgate in London are the most interesting and layered of the whole film and i suggest that there could have been an entire film set in this location alone with these characters, that would have been a million times more engaging, emotional and real.
As it is, we're left with a wet fish of a film that doesn't so much stay with you as it does quickly let go of you as soon as you walk out of the cinema.