It’s played European film festivals since last summer, gotten itself nominated for the British Independent Film Awards, and garnered numerous other accolades abroad. This week, finally, Anand Tucker’s latest film, When Did You Last See Your Father? will evoke sniffles and a flurry of tissues on this side of the pond as well.
Based on Blake Morrison’s memoir, the film explores the shifting perceptions Morrison had of his father, Arthur — from the eyes of an adoring child to disenchanted teen to distant adult who hopes to repair the relationship as Arthur’s cancer quickly advances. As the film’s narrative explains, Morrison’s goal is to pinpoint a moment in which his father was “unmistakably there, in the fullness of being him.”
Jim Broadbent, perhaps best known to American audiences as Bridget Jones’ dad, with his trademark ruddy-cheeked, crinkle-eyed look of delight brilliantly captures Arthur’s carefree nature, making the man downright loveable despite his philandering and knack for calling his son a fathead. In fact, Broadbent does such a fine job diverting the spotlight from his co-stars, just as Morrison described his father doing in actuality, that audiences may sympathize with Arthur over the introverted Morrison floundering in the man’s shadow.
As the adult Morrison, Colin Firth nobly assumes the challenge of holding a candle to Broadbent’s tour-de-force performance. Vanity Fair once labeled Firth the “thinking mom’s crush” after he, as Mr. Darcy, emerged wet-shirted from a lake in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. And though he might not manage such rapt attention in When Did You Last See Your Father?, probably no other actor portrays bottled frustration better. His restraint butts up against Broadbent’s effervescence in a painful contrast that is the film’s emotional center, and thinking moms everywhere will melt at his final embrace goodbye.