The Sense of an Ending (3 stars)

Julian Barnes' novel becomes an intriguing if unambitious film, starring Jim Broadbent

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The Sense of an Ending

Based on Julian Barnes' Booker-winning 2011 novel, The Sense of an Ending sees Jim Broadbent's curmudgeon retreat from the irritations of his present in favour of the agony and ecstasy of his past. This slightly wilted English rose of a drama is the sophomore effort of Indian director Ritesh Batra, following up his charming, BAFTA-nominated debut The Lunchbox.

Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a grumpy old git who's nevertheless on good terms with his former wife (the estimable Harriet Walter) and the slightly reluctant birthing partner to his single daughter (Michelle Dockery). Tony is prompted to relive his schooldays when he's bequeathed the diary of a friend, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), by the mother of an old flame, although the item itself eludes him.

Andrew Haigh's 45 Years – whose star Charlotte Rampling turns up here – showed in heartbreaking detail how obsessing over what once was can poison what you have, whereas this feels more like standard 'memory lane' fare. The slightly hokey conceit may sucker you in, with the diary acting as a Hitchcockian McGuffin. However, as Tony puzzles over his recollections and interrogates others in pursuit of the truth, the accompanying flashbacks are somewhat unsatisfactory.

The romance is a damp squib and, despite forceful work from charismatic newcomer Alwyn (who made a similarly strong impression in his debut Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk), Adrian is a fleeting figure, meaning the mystery that surrounds him doesn't grip as it might, while Broadbent's youthful counterpart Billy Howle is a bit of a blank. Instead the film illustrates how the past might be painful but at least it's fuzzy and gilded by nostalgia, whereas the now seems irksomely intrusive by comparison.

Since so little is adequately established and there's something stiflingly safe about the whole enterprise, there's the nagging feeling that The Sense of an Ending might have played out better as a BBC miniseries (no coincidence that it's a BBC Films production). And fans of the book may feel cheated that the conclusion is rendered rather more optimistic. Still, it's nicely cast, pleasantly wistful and the scenes between Broadbent and an alternately genial and withering Walter are to be savoured. Their fractious familiarity is the highlight of a film that's handsome enough but never more than politely probing.

General release from Fri 14 Apr.

The Sense of an Ending

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 108 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ritesh Batra
  • Cast: Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer
  • UK release: 14 April 2017

Tony Webster (Broadbent) is a grumpy old git who’s on good terms with his ex wife (Walter); when he’s bequeathed the diary of an old friend, he is prompted to relive his schooldays. This adaptation of a Julian Barnes novel feels hokey and safe, although it has a nice cast and the scenes between Broadbent and Walter are…

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