Laura CliffordBlake Morrison (Colin Firth) has had a love-hate relationship with his father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent), since he was a child. Now, his general practitioner dad has become a patient himself, diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer. Blake remembers his father, his flaws, foibles, indiscretions and browbeating as he comes to terms with the man who influenced him, good or bad, in “And When Did You Last See Your Father?”
This mixed bag film has several quality elements and one major problem. Let me start with the problem: Colin Firth. As the older Blake, he is a blank cipher who has little expression and looks as if he is distressed, almost constipated. I usually like Firth as an actor so I have to look to the script or director for his misstep. Firth’s Blake is central to the film so the lack of personality or character is too noticeable.
Better is Matthew Beard as Blake as a teenager at a time when he is in conflict with Arthur who, not so affectionately, is in the habit of calling his son fat head,” regardless if others are around to hear the insult. Arthur’s disappointment in Blake is obvious when his son decides to follow a career as a writer, eschewing his parents’ life as physicians. This difference of career choice becomes a barrier and frequent point of contention between father and son, one that Blake will struggle with when his dad is diagnosed with incurable cancer.
Adapted for the screen, by Dave Nicholls, from Morrison’s best-selling memoirs, director Anand Tucker spans decades with a brilliantly played character study by Jim Broadbent. Arthur is a man of many layers, some good, some not so good, who awed and embarrassed his young son, Blake (Bradley Johnson), with his wheeling and dealing for things he doesn’t deserve and dedication to his patients. This changes to discord when Blake grows up and begins to make his own decisions in life, contrary to Arthur’s feelings and desires for his son. The flashbacks to the teenage Blake versus Arthur conflict, with mother Kim (Juliet Stevenson) as a pawn in the fight, are the most compelling in the film.
The cast is first rate with Broadbent getting the focus of my attention as he forms a fully dimensioned character, like him or not, as Arthur. First-timer to the big screen Matthew Beard gives an excellent performance as the middle Blake. The rest of the cast do fine, though Juliet Stevenson has the thankless job as the loyal, cuckolded wife. Firth could have been much better but seemed hampered.
And When Did You Last See Your Father?” has its good and bad points that make it an uneven effort overall. Broadbent’s near brilliant performances raises it up a notch. The title, to quote Bart Simpson, “sucks.” I give it a C+.
Jim Broadbent creates a frustratingly complex character as dad and newcomer Matthew Beard is terrific as the teenaged Blake Morrison (the film was adapted from Morrison's memoir), but Colin Firth as the adult Blake brings nothing but melancholy mope to the role, giving the audience little insight into his character's motivations (why, for example, would Blake attempt to do the main thing he has hated his father for all these years himself?). Casting the wonderful Juliet Stevenson, who is 3-4 years older than Firth, as the man's mother calls attention to itself, not that the actress and her hair and makeup team aren't up to the job. Period production is finely realized. In all, though, director Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie," "Shopgirl") has formed a film that one can immediately perceive is an emotionally pale imitation of the book on which it was based, even without knowing the movie is adapted from a book. C+
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