Blake Morrison (Colin Firth) is coming to terms with his father’s terminal illness. This imminent loss sparks a painful chain of memories – told in flashback – as Morrison remembers his outlandish, opinionated father (Jim Broadbent). The son’s simmering resentments are traced to their source, in series of uncomfortable yet amusing vignettes: a washed out camping trip, a fumble with the au pair blusteringly overshadowed by his flirty father.
As the reveries swirl and clarify, the adult Blake makes uncomfortable connections. Just who is his dad? And was the so-solid family life they shared really as solid as it seemed? Reality bites in the most unusual places – and Blake comes to realize that hatred may not be the truest response to his aged parent.
And When Did You Last See Your Father? could have been a maudlin melodrama. But in the hands of Anand Tucker – one of Britain’s most underrated and best directors – it’s a light-touch, illuminating insight into the delicate drama of family life. Tucker’s previous work (Shopgirl, Hilary & Jackie) reveal his astonishing ability to capture on film the nuances of feeling and the interior reaction to relationships.
Beautifully shot – as Tucker’s films always are – and with a heightened sense of reality, there’s a burnished glow to the fifties flashbacks that belies the lack of joy Blake thinks he remembers. And the exceptional playing of British treasure Jim Broadbent (as the older and younger father) conveys the bullying bluster and boyish roguery of an enigmatic man.
But stop now and remember this name: Matthew Beard. As the young Blake, eighteen year old Beard almost steals the film with a complex blend of confident vulnerability. He’s certainly delivered on the promise of top-notch TV film An Angel for May (2002). No wonder Tucker gave him a prominent, wholly-deserved screen credit - “And introducing….” Thanks to Beard, Morrison’s simmering teenage rage towards his father is thoroughly convincing.
And When Did You Last See Your Father? is a heartfelt film that bottles lightning. With stand-out performances from all the cast – including Juliet Stevenson – it’s a film that stays in the memory for all the right reasons. And while this is Morrison’s story about his own father, it can’t fail to ring bells with anyone who’s lost a parent or seen one grow old.
A mature, autumnal film it’s at once amusing and affecting – as life and relationships should be.