Memory’s a funny old thing, particularly when you’re old, and The Sense of an Ending has no shortage of memories or old people. Lawrence reviews.
The Sense of an Ending follows Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), a retired writer, amicably divorced, owner of a second-hand camera shop. Tony’s an old man; just at the cusp of that age where he can be as curmudgeonous as he pleases and people just have to endure it, and with a grandchild on the way, he’s got life neatly sorted out. So it is with some great surprise that he discovers that the mother of an old flame has named him in her last will and testament to be the sole inheritor of a diary; a diary belonging to an old friend and former classmate who took his own life long ago. This starts a chain of events that compels Tony to track down his ever-mysterious ex and find out just why he would be left the most personal possession of someone he hasn’t seen in over forty years, and why it is being kept from him. Along the way, he discovers things that make him confront exactly what kind of man he is, as well as how memory can betray us, even in small ways.
If I have at all led you to believe that this is a mystery thriller of some kind with that synopsis, I should clarify that it’s all a little bit mundane, a bit personal. I can confirm at one point a dark secret is revealed, unpleasant revelations come to light, and the world’s mildest chase sequence occurs, but at no point does sixty-something Tony fashion a blade from second-hand camera parts to escape from a car boot slowly filling up with water. That being said, the core intrigue keeps things from getting boring, and while it doesn’t quite meet the exact criteria, it does have that cosy mystery charm to it.
As well as providing the main story thread, the above also acts as the framing device for the second running narrative: Tony’s life in the 60s (played by Billy Howle) alongside his classmates and girlfriend (Freya Mavor). The scenes set in the 60s are filmed in that distinctive hazy feel of the era; dimly lit rooms and tobacco smoke, crackly rock tunes blaring away, the audio definition and air quality are low in equal measure. Contrast this with the scenes of English countryside; glaring sun and chirping birds create a feeling straight out of a Beatles album. Of course, we’re not really seeing Tony’s life in the 60s, but his memory of it. The deception of memory is a key theme, and a lot of the aforementioned plot revelations take the form of Tony being told or reading something and thinking “Ooh crikey, that did happen, didn’t it?” cueing the appropriate flashback.
There is a good script here, deliberately overwritten at times but solid nonetheless. I especially liked the schoolboy banter, finding it both familiar and likeable. Although, I do get the unpleasant impression we’re supposed to feel that at this point in their lives the boys are posh arrogant berks, so my fondness for them may reflect poorly on me, but no matter. Intelligent arrogant berks for protagonists are in these days, don’tcha-know.
It doesn’t push any envelopes or raise any pulses, but with a talented cast and a tight script, it’s classic BBC drama and a good afternoon’s watch, best enjoyed with some tea and shortbread. And sometimes, just sometimes, that’s all a film really needs to be.