Don’t Cry for Me, Colin Firth

sarris when did you last se Don’t Cry for Me, Colin FirthWhen Did You Last See Your Father?
Running time 92 minutes
Written by Daniel Nichols
Directed by Anand Tucker
Starring Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Claire Skinner

Anand Tucker’s When Did You Last See Your Father?, from a screenplay by Daniel Nichols, based on Blake Morrison’s book of the same name, fully qualifies as what film historian Raymond Durgnat once designated as a “male weepie.” This is to say that we men who smirkingly condescend to so-called “chick flicks” reach for our handkerchiefs when we are shown a memory scene of a late father teaching his teenage son how to drive.

There is such a scene in When Did You Last See Your Father?, and in the convoluted flashback structure of the narrative, we already know that Jim Broadbent’s Arthur Morrison is dying of cancer, and his 40-year-old son, Colin Firth’s Blake Morrison, a successful author, is recalling all the good and bad times they shared from Blake’s childhood (Young Blake played by Bradley Johnson) to his adolescence (Teenage Blake played by Matthew Beard) to the mournful, tearful present, during which Blake must finally come to terms with his mixed relationship with his exasperating father.

Arthur Morrison and his wife, Kim (Juliet Stevenson), were physicians in the same medical practice in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, England. They had two children, Gillian (Claire Skinner) and her older brother, Blake. The story covers a period of 40 years in bits and pieces of Blake’s memory of his father, beginning with a summer family drive in the late 1950s. Stymied by a long line of stalled automobiles en route to a car-racing arena, Blake’s father brandishes a stethoscope as he blithely bypasses the line by speeding through the right or, rather, wrong lane, talking down the noisily outraged drivers on the line by lying about a nonexistent medical emergency, and then bluffing his way past the security guard with cheaply invalid tickets just in time to watch the first race. Kim and the children are mortified by Arthur’s nervy behavior, but all they can do is cower in their seats in shame.

On other public occasions, Blake’s father easily dominates the proceedings, even when Blake is given a literary award. Arthur is bitterly disappointed when Blake does not follow him into his medical practice, but Blake has to concede that the recognition he received for his writings did greatly please his father. There are also less savory memories, of the father’s dalliances with other women, and even possibly an illegitimate child. But Kim’s essentially passive attitude through the years of their marriage only clouds her son’s memories without completely darkening them.

This vagueness about the father’s more serious derelictions of marital duty would have counted as a serious flaw in the film if it were not completely overwhelmed by a spectacularly terrific tearjerker ending that, I must confess, even got to me. I have never really seen anything quite like it, and I must therefore wholeheartedly recommend this wondrous work for its magnificently moving father-son performances by Mr. Broadbent and Mr. Firth.

 

asarris@observer.com