'And When Did You Last See Your Father?' (2007) 500 Word DVD Review

May 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Score: 4 out of 5

And When Did You Last See Your Father? is the rather awkward title of director Anand Tucker’s 2007 film, based on the memoir of the same name by Blake Morrison. Jim Broadbent stars as the aforementioned “Father” of the title, Arthur, whose philandering ways and critical parental techniques have left Blake (played, with dewey-eyed gusto, by Colin Firth) with a fairly gaping, and not unjustified, resentment towards the pater familias.

Soon after an awards ceremony, celebrating Blake’s latest crowning literary achievement, Arthur is taken into hospital and diagnosed with cancer. The doctor informs Blake that his father hasn’t long to live, and now Blake, having purposely avoided the man he has secretly held a grudge against for all these years, with very little time left, is compelled to confront his father and hopefully draw out the wedge that has come between them.

Jim Broadbent is spectacular as Arthur, a man who is at once an electrifying presence, a weaver of stories and anecdotes, a loving and caring family man, but also a cheat and a liar, a selfish sod on most occasions who ends up hurting his family – and without any idea of the damage he is causing. In this role – and during the flashback sequences, in which we see Arthur in his prime – Broadbent delivers a magnetic and layered performance of someone who is immediately likable, even lovable, but also contemptible in the endless duplicities he creates.

Colin Firth is put in a tough position, seeing as we might naturally align ourselves with the larger-than-life character of Arthur, rather than the embittered character of Blake. It is to Firth’s credit that he makes his character sympathetic and understandable, allowing us a window into a person who is a mix of emotion, of hate, love and grief, towards his dear old dad.

There are also some very strong performances from the support, from Juliet Stevenson as the long-suffering wife, Kim, and also from Matthew Beard, who plays Blake as the sexually emergent, stroppy teen. Some of the best scenes are with both Beard and Broadbent, and it is heart-breaking as the tragedy of the relationship unfolds: Arthur, a man who clearly, deeply loves his son – and is proud of him – through the way he is, tries to reach out to him and ends up causing Blake a great deal of pain; Blake, worn down by his father’s perpetual criticisms, “jokes”, sexual indiscretions and mild insults, ends up hating the man who he once thought of and idolised as “infallible, invincible and immortal.”

It is a shame that the film, having seemingly forgone the more predictable Hollywood ending between Blake and Arthur, then does a bit of an about-face, with an overly cloying final scene between the two. While endings can sink films, this is only a misdemeanour, in my eyes, and so can be forgiven in light of all the outstanding performances during the rest of the film.

(492 words.)

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