If your lead character is an unchallenged champion from the beginning to the end of your story there isn’t much of an arc for an audience to grab onto. I wish someone might have explained this concept to the makers of the movie “Tommy’s Honour” which stars Jack Lowden as Scottish golfing legend Tommy Morris Jr. In “Tommy’s Honour” Morris is portrayed as such an incredible champion and all around angelic hero that the stories of his many triumphs and tragedies are rendered dull and listless.
Tommy Morris Jr’s life was planned before he was born. By the strict societal codes of the time, the early 1800’s, Morris Jr was expected follow in the footsteps of his father (Peter Mullan) and become a caddy but Tommy wanted more. When fully grown, Tommy Jr. begins competing in the Caddy Open and then the Open Championship and before we’ve even come to know him as a character, we watch him triumph as champion, off screen, at the famed St. Andrew golf course three times.
Soon Tommy is challenging societal norms by demanding that he and a fellow golfer and friend be properly compensated by the clubhouse elite who profit off their play through gambling and exhibitions. For a moment, you begin to think this will bring conflict to the story but no, the elite, led by a snobbish Sam Neill, roll over immediately and pay Tommy fairly.
Then Tommy meets a lovely scullery maid named Meg with a dark past played by Ophelia Lovibond. With the Scottish class system, as it is, Meg’s past should provide conflict and indeed, Tommy’s mother objects to the relationship. However, in less than 15 minutes’ screen time, I was bored enough to keep count, Mom rolls over and another potential source of drama is dismissed with mom even leaving the church to stand up for her son and new daughter in-law, after one brief conversation with her husband and a single entreaty about how their son loves this woman despite what society says.
It isn’t until the final act that anything happens to Tommy. Tommy suffers a serious tragedy and his life falls to pieces but somehow “Tommy’s Honour” never communicates that tragedy, preferring the dull safety of the golf course where Tommy once again tops an opponent we never meet and thus have zero investment in. If the movie doesn’t care about these opponents, then why should we care? They are there to lose to Tommy, to further the legend building that is the film’s true aim. The final match should feel big and important but as portrayed, it’s a contest of egos that leads to an ending that feels more like stubborn inflexibility than the tragedy the true story was.
“Tommy’s Honour” is yet another in a long line of bad biopics. The film has no life, no courage. The aim of the filmmakers is to deify a Scottish legend and that might work for someone who is desperately invested in the story of Tommy Morris Jr. but as drama it fails completely. Drama needs tension, it needs stakes, it needs something for the audience to connect to, some relatable experience. If your story revolves around a character who is perfect and whose life constantly works out well for most of the story there is no drama. Sure, Tommy’s life ended tragically but even that tragedy is pushed aside in favor of showing what a golf legend he was and that renders an interesting life rather incredibly boring.