The great Jim Broadbent has an unusual star role in The Sense of an Ending, a very English filming of Julian Barnes’ 2011 novel as directed by Ritesh Batra.
Broadbent’s familiar from his many turns as sweet, slightly dotty old gents, so it’s good (and sometimes unsettling) to see him playing something a bit darker and meatier, and a character who’s actually kind of a bastard, even if we like him anyway. Sort of.
Broadbent’s senior Londoner Tony Webster is a divorced and retired man of habit who works in a small camera shop which specialises in outdated and second-hand models (yes, there’s an awful lot of symbolism right there). He’s on pleasant terms with his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), a QC, and with his pregnant daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), but Broadbent’s performance ensures that we know that there’s more to Tony than we at first realise, as he’s pushy and snide, and given to short-tempered rudeness quite at odds with, say, his performances as the kindly old Dad in those Bridget Jones movies.
When Tony receives a letter saying that he’s been named in the will of the mother of a girl he dated at university back in the late 1960s, this causes him to flashback upon his youth and his relationship with the beautiful, posh and mysterious Veronica (Freya Mavor). A crucial sequence shows him as a young man (Billy Howle) visiting Veronica’s family’s country home one weekend and meeting her mother Sarah (Emily Mortimer, very fine in only a few scenes) and family, and we also study his friendship with schoolmate Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), who discusses the unreliable nature of history in a glaringly important moment.
When we eventually follow Tony as he meets up with the long-unseen Veronica, and she turns out to (of course) be played by Charlotte Rampling (as brilliantly icy as ever), this seems to be headed towards shocks and twists, especially as Tony begins to basically stalk her. But, somehow, they never quite seem to come.
This is less a grim and scary psychodrama than it is more to do with the past, how it shapes our lives and how we deal with it (or don’t), particularly into old age when we become more and more like ourselves, and we all sense that impending ending.
Rated M. The Sense of an Ending is in cinemas now