Is there ever a time in which knowledge arrived at too late is better than having no knowledge at all? Is it ever too late to understand matters you could not reconcile in your youth or early manhood?
In “When Did You Last See Your Father?” Colin Firth plays Blake Morrison, a poet who cares for his father during his last days. Played by the brilliantly versatile Jim Broadbent, Arthur Morrison is that father, a doctor who fills up a room every time he walks into it. He is vain, egotistical, selfish, and, most likely, a bit of a philanderer whose excesses pain his son to the extreme. Blake has reason to believe that the daughter of a family friend may indeed be his sister.
It is no coincidence that as a teen, Blake reads “The Brothers Karamazov,” a novel centered on parricide; there are times when young Blake imagines his father dead. And yet, as the son begins to realize, there is something more to Dr. Morrison, which leads me to believe that men who see the picture will examine the relationship with and reevaluate the character of their own fathers.
’When Did You Last See Your Father?’
DIRECTED BY Anand Tucker
SCREENPLAY BY David Nicholls, based on book by Blake Morrison
STARRING Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Matthew Beard, Juliet Stevenson, Gina McKee, Elaine Cassidy, Claire Skinner and Sarah Lancashire
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
As his father lies dying of cancer, Blake conjures up memories of his boyhood, not only the painful experiences but those reminding him that Arthur Morrison was more than an object of disillusionment. The nearer his father sinks into a coma, the more memories emerge, many informing Blake that despite forays into narcissistic behavior, his father always loved him with all his heart or with as much love as his heart possessed.
As many children realize, perhaps too late, a father can be more than the sum of his parts. Sometimes, children see only what in anger and despair they choose to see. The movie reminds us that it is often a malady only distance, detachment and death can cure.
Working from a screenplay by David Nicholls, who adapted Blake Morrison’s memoir, director Anand Tucker (“Hilary and Jackie”) avoids excessive sentimentality in the handling of a finely honed story. If anything, it is often too refined, but better to encounter this quality than maudlin displays of emotion.
Though it may not appear to be a novel observation, I think men will relate to this more than women, who may find some of this narrative confusing. Firth is duly contemplative as the son, but aside from Broadbent’s, the most shining performance is turned in by Matthew Beard, who plays Blake as a 14-year-old.