In Tommy’s Honour, Jack Lowden finally gets the leading role he deserves as the eponymous Tommy Morris, the greatest golfer of the 19th century.
At just 26, Jack Lowden has already made a career of standing out when he has no business to do so, simply by force of talent and charisma. He won an Olivier opposite Leslie Manville in Ghosts and got excellent notices opposite Kristin Scott Thomas in Electra. In the 2016 BBC miniseries of War and Peace, his Nikolai Rostov regularly stole the spotlight from the smoldering Prince Andrei (James Norton). As the progressive young lawyer with a bit part in A United Kingdom, and then as a solicitor in Denial, Lowden is unrecognizable but mesmerizing — changing all his movements and mannerisms to suit each character. In Denial, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him in his two-shots with Rachel Weisz, even though Weisz is meant to be the focal point.Jack Lowden has already made a career of standing out when he has no business to do so, simply by force of talent and charisma.Click To Tweet
In Tommy’s Honour, Lowden finally gets the leading role he deserves as the eponymous Tommy Morris, the greatest golfer of the 19th century. We follow Lowden’s Tommy from ages 15 to 24, from 1865 to 1875, from the youngest winner of the Open Championship to an enduring legend, and from young boy to husband and expectant father. Lowden’s character evolution in Tommy’s Honour is as masterful as his Nikolai in War and Peace, in which he deftly managed the transformation from innocent boy to wearied man, from doting lover to callous jilter – all while maintaining a consistent character. The last time I saw a transformation this impressive was Christian Bale’s in Little Women as Theodore Laurence, who over the course of a decade, went from boyish troublemaker to playboy to drunken disappointment to married man. Bale’s performance was a tour de force, still one of his best, that cemented him as one of the great actors of his generation. Lowden belongs in this category, as well.
Tommy Morris is the son of Tom Morris (Peter Mullan), widely considered the founding father of golf — not because he invented the game but because he founded the Open Championship in 1860 and designed most of the golf courses in the UK. He was a champion golfer and an expert maker of clubs and balls. In those days, gentlemen bet on working class golfers, watched them play, and threw them some money for their efforts. But Tom spent most of his life waiting on gentlemen, his inferiors at the game but superiors in the social hierarchy. As such, they had the tendency to treat him as gum on their shoe while they profited from his successes on the course.Jack Lowden's work thus far cements him as one of the great actors of his generation.Click To Tweet
Having grown up watching his talented father, whom he quietly worshipped, forced to take abuse from the moneyed classes, Tommy wants none of it. And as a young upstart with even more talent for the game than his father, he’s naturally rebellious. He loves to win, loves to play the game, and doesn’t go anywhere without a golf ball in his pocket. He sees a changing world with a new social order, and he wants to be part of it, demanding fair pay for his matches even as he’s warned by the owner of the club (Sam Neill) that such behaviour would have earned him a lashing a generation earlier. When he falls for an older woman, Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), whom he will later discover is of so-called “loose morals”, his love prevails not in spite of her reputation but because she’s a free spirit, unafraid to talk back and take him to task.
Although co-writers Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook handle the class warfare, romance, and father-son relationship thoughtfully, it’s the performances that make the film. As the 17-year-old Tommy, Lowden has a youthful swagger. He’s all fast movements, energetic yet graceful. He walks the golf course and the town with pride and purpose, a straight back and a long stride. Lowden never stops moving, always fidgeting with a prop or tapping his fingers. Tommy is hungry and ambitious — and a lot more insecure than he lets on. He’s constantly breaking with convention in golf, but ultimately, he wants his father’s approbation and feels deeply responsible to his family. As he grows up and into himself, as a man and a renowned golfer, that youthful energy never disappears, but it’s tempered. He slows his movements ever so slightly and the nervous fidgeting dampens because there’s less hunger there.Lowden never stops moving, always fidgeting with a prop or tapping his fingers. Tommy is hungry and ambitious.Click To Tweet
When romancing Meg, there’s a sly vulnerability even as he pushes his way into her personal space, holding intense eye contact. He first notices her during a lunch meeting with a prospective sponsor; she works as a waitress and has the audacity to serve him a witty comeback. While his companion rattles on, offering Tommy a job, the camera holds on Tommy’s face, constantly shifting his gaze toward Meg. It reads, at first, as arrogance: the new champ is more interested in the pursuit of a woman than in securing a living. But Lowden lets us see it’s more than recklessness. Even as he purposefully tracks down Meg, there’s a boyish insecurity in the way he talks to her, tempering each attempt at firm flirtation with a questioning look, begging to be accepted.'There’s a boyish insecurity...tempering...flirtation with a questioning look.'Click To Tweet
But it’s the scenes between father and son where the film packs its emotional punch. Mullan’s Tom is quiet and restrained, accustomed to being stomped on by his superiors. With his son, he’s commanding, even when Tommy openly rejects his father’s career and life for himself. Mullan shows Tom’s pride in Tommy through half-smiles, nods of approval, and subtle gestures of warmth: attending Tommy’s Christmas dinner despite his wife’s reputation, admitting his dependence on Tommy for the family’s living, and commending Tommy for his kindness towards his brothers. Tommy may complain about his father, but he listens to him with a reverence he only ever quietly admits: nothing hurts him more than gentlemen talking down to him about his father. The pair don’t talk about their feelings or express them much. But every time their eyes meet, there’s a mutual understanding of love and respect.