Launched This Week at Regal Twin Cinema Graceville – “The Sense of an Ending”, Starring Jim Broadbent

Photo credit: Studiocanal

Running from 8th to 14th June at The Regal Twin Boutique Arthouse Cinema in Graceville, “The Sense of an Ending” is a movie adaptation of a 2011 Booker Prize-winning novel of the same title by celebrated British author Julian Barnes.

Most authors resign themselves to the reality that their story will never be the same again, once the film adaptation has come out. In fact, Director Ritesh Batra recounts a meeting that he had with Julian Barnes, about which the only recollection he has are the author’s parting words, spoken jokingly but with more than a hint of resigned acceptance: “Go ahead and betray me.”

Usually, when a book is made into a movie, the two versions either wildly differ at certain points of digression; or they mimic each other ad nauseam in ways that fail to translate effectively from print to screen. To his credit, despite being given carte blanche by the author, Ritesh avoids these directorial pitfalls. Instead, he delivers a marvelously restrained version that, helped along by Nick Payne’s skillful screenplay, remains relatively faithful to the essence of the book, while still making allowances for the vagaries of the use of film as his storytelling medium.

Official Trailer from Studiocanal

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In this movie, Jim Broadbent plays the part of Dr. Tony Webster, a cranky, semi-retired doctor in his 70s who runs his own vintage camera shop in London. Still quite friendly with his ex-wife Margaret Webster (played by Harriet Walker), Tony sometimes meets with her over tea to discuss their lives. Margaret has always been Tony’s sounding board. He likes to talk. It has always been her role to listen.

The two remain in relatively good terms, despite the break-up of their marriage. Both are mutually supportive of their daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey” fame). It is not an ideal family set-up, particularly in one’s golden years. However, Tony seems quite happily settled into his regular routine, until a letter arrives that shakes him out of his comfortable complacency.

Jim Broadbent as Tony Walker. Photo from Studiocanal Production Images

From the letter, Tony learns that he has been bequeathed a section of an old diary by the deceased mother of an old college girlfriend. As Tony attempts to obtain the diary, he struggles to tell Margaret stories from his past. It soon becomes apparent that Tony isn’t telling her everything. The audience, along with Margaret is left wondering what he could be leaving out, and why.

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Slowly, with a painstaking build-up of details, Tony’s story is told, using flashbacks throughout the film to complete the quilt of a life stitched from the patchwork of his reveries. The judicious use of flashbacks frequently leaves the audience pondering. Gradually, a missing diary and a letter from the past help piece together a mystery which casts its long shadow over the present.

Tony and Veronica, in their youth (Billy Howle and Freya Manor). Photo from Studiocanal

Scenes from Tony’s youth unfold. Young Tony (portrayed by Billy Howle) dates a young and attractive Veronica (Freya Manor). He gets invited to a weekend at her family’s cottage in the country. Things get more interesting when Tony’s best friend, a clever but troubled lad named Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn) turns out to be besotted with Veronica too.  While there, Tony also meets Veronica’s mother, the flirtatious Sarah (Emily Mortimer) with whom he gets along disturbingly well. It is Sarah who will later leave pages from a late friend’s diary to him.

In his quest to decipher Sarah’s motives for leaving him the diary, Tony finds adult Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) and looks for answers to long-forgotten questions that his reveries have unearthed. The tentative dynamics of their reunion in later life appear in marked contrast to the flirtation of their younger years.

The film depicts a young Tony who feels like he is trapped in “some kind of holding pen.” This perception of being in “some kind of holding pen”, words straight from the novel, seems to be a significant theme running through the movie. The opening voice-over mentions it, along with Tony’s impatient wait to be “released” into his life. In his subsequent life as old Tony, his attempts to master his memories and understand the present events that puzzle him, have put him into another holding pattern.

It gradually becomes apparent that underneath the ennui of Tony’s present life lies a turmoil of events and emotions that have either been repressed, forgotten, or both. The young Tony differs wildly in temperament and manner from the old Tony, and Broadbent gives a fascinating portrayal that elicits both the audience’s sympathy and revulsion at all the right times.

Video Still Photo from the Official Trailer by Studiocanal

Through little gestures, a flash of irritation across one’s face, a brow raised in amusement, or an impatient pursing of the lips, Harriet Walker gives a beautifully restrained performance as the long-suffering Margaret. Her portrayal of a tolerant ex-wife provides the perfect counterfoil to Broadbent’s dry misanthropy.

In book form, the story would have the reader flipping pages, re-reading passages while slowly sifting through “facts” and “perceptions.” Director Ritesh Batra does a good job of revealing the dark edges of a seemingly humdrum set of characters. It’s rather like walking through the door, opening someone’s hall closet, and finding an unremarkable rack of coats. Nothing really stands out from a closet full of coats, until you notice the skeletons within. The subtlety with which the skeletons are revealed is perhaps more powerful than having them jump out of the closet at the audience.

The movie, as did the book, deals effectively with the ripples of events across the pond of time, revealing the frailties of human memory, and exposing the tangled web that people weave, whether by deception or design. In the midst of the flashbacks, the streams of consciousness, and the characters’ vague narratives, the storytelling remains tantalisingly obscure. Key events and the all-important final discovery remain hidden and have to be inferred.

“Go ahead and betray me,” said the book’s author to the film’s director. As it turns out, the film is neither betrayal nor tribute. Like the book, it does not end with any sort of satisfying flourish. There is a sense of events coming to a head; but like the book, and perhaps like life itself, the film gives no clear meaning to motives and events, and no clear endings either.

There is no closure. There is, in fact, no sense of an ending.

“The Sense of an Ending” is showing daily until the 14th of June at The Regal Twin Boutique Arthouse Cinema in Graceville. Click below for more information.

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