Glimpses of a 'Father,' Fragments of a Son

Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth in black tie i i

hide captionFilial affliction: Jim Broadbent's paterfamilias leaves Colin Firth's Blake with an issue or two.

Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures Classics
Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth in black tie

Filial affliction: Jim Broadbent's paterfamilias leaves Colin Firth's Blake with an issue or two.

Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures Classics

When Did You Last
See Your Father?

  • Director: Anand Tucker
  • Genre: Family Drama
  • Running Time: 92 minutes
Jim Broadbent and Matthew Beard (driving on beach) i i

hide captionHow He Learned to Drive: Broadbent's Arthur and Matthew Beard's young Blake navigate the rites of passage.

Jim Broadbent and Matthew Beard (driving on beach)

How He Learned to Drive: Broadbent's Arthur and Matthew Beard's young Blake navigate the rites of passage.

A grown son grapples with his love for the dying father he has ample reason to hate in this middling adaptation of Blake Morrison's memoir. When Did You Last See Your Father? is a showcase for veteran performer Jim Broadbent, who robustly inhabits the role of Arthur Morrison, a portly Yorkshire physician with a big laugh and a bigger ego.

Broadbent is the constant in the father-and-son duel, while Blake is played by three actors at different ages. Colin Firth, who's been getting in touch with his peevish side in such recent movies as Then She Found Me, portrays the irritable adult Blake. He softens as he watches his father die of cancer, but still can't forgive the old man for many childhood upheavals.

Blake's gripes, presented in a chronological jumble, include Arthur's neglect of his patient wife (Juliet Stevenson); his possible affair with the young housekeeper (Elaine Cassidy), who was the object of teenage Blake's first crush; and an intimate friendship with an "aunt" (Sarah Lancashire) that Blake thinks may have produced an unacknowledged half-sister. Plus, dad once made his son set up camp near a stream that flooded as they slept.

That these traumas are fresh in Blake's mind is emphasized by director Anand Tucker, who probed another unhappy British family in 1998's Hilary and Jackie. The movie glides between contemporary events and flashbacks, sometimes even briefly overlapping characters from past and present. Attempting to simulate Blake's confused consciousness, Tucker uses shallow focus, wispy images, and impressionistic closeups. All he succeeds in doing, however, is demonstrate that film can't rival prose's ability to evoke a writer's thoughts.

Blake's anger at his father's treatment of women is a bit ironic, since the female characters — who also include Blake's wife (Gina McKee) and sister (Claire Skinner) — barely register. There just doesn't seem to be enough room for anyone but Arthur, whether in the Morrison household or in this earnest but unbalanced remembrance.

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