It’s strange that given how picturesque St Andrews is, it doesn’t feature in very many films. Of course, the town is well known for its (unconvincing) doubling for Kent in Chariots of Fire, and Agnes Blackadder Hall is fleetingly glimpsed as the recovery centre in Never Let Me Go, but films set in and about St Andrews are surprisingly thin on the ground.
It’s a shame, as the many months of lockdown have made me want more than anything to see the sights of St Andrews again, even if just in a film.
Fortunately for me, BBC iPlayer is currently streaming the 2017 golfing biopic Tommy’s Honour, which tells the story of Young Tommy Morris – the first ever professional golfer and four-time winner of the Open tournament at the Old Course.
As so much of the action revolves around the grounds of the Royal and Ancient, it is no surprise that St Andrews features heavily in the film (although several location doubles were used in certain scenes). For those who, like me, have been thinking wistfully of our Auld Grey Toon, this is the perfect tonic, satisfying our East Fife yearnings with a nostalgic, sun-dappled portrayal of the town.
Painted in soft and rosy strokes, the St Andrews we see on-screen is a serene, gorgeous idyll. From the opening shots of the lapping North Sea waves and the craggy silhouette of St Andrews Castle, it is clear that this is a film which has fallen – like many a student – helplessly in love with its location. From romantic sweeping overheads of the cathedral at sunset to the green turf of The Old Course, everything in this film is guaranteed to make you excited to return once more to the cobbled streets and narrow lanes of St Andrews. It might not be a completely accurate rendering, but the St Andrews we see on screen is the St Andrews we know in our hearts – a timeless haven untroubled by the rest of the world.
To the Celtic strains of Christian Henson’s score, we are introduced to the turbulent relationship between young Tommy and his father (Old Tom Morris, aka the ‘grandfather’ of golf). Tommy wants to be a golfer, but his father wants him to stick to the profession that his social strata dictates – a caddy for the wealthy visitors who play the links. Despite this, Tommy pursues his ambition, forging his character and making his name on the greens of the Old Course.
It’s a well-worn formula, but it’s a formula that works. Peter Mullan and Jack Lowden star as the father-son duo, and it’s in their well-meaning conflict that the film finds its heart. Lowden is charming and charismatic, bringing a quiet determination to Morris, whilst Mullan excels as a world-weary older man trying to look after his precocious son. Their scenes together crackle with believable familial strain, but their love for one another is always evident, ensuring that the emotional beats of the film’s storyline land – and land hard.
Tommy’s forbidden romance with Ophelia Lovibond’s character (she’s a divorcee – gasp!) is also well-drawn, with Lovibond and Lowden’s chemistry breathing a poignancy into their scenes together. Similarly, Sam Neill seems to be having fun in his role as the Captain of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, sneering through his scenes from behind a pair of enormous, bristling sideburns.
Overall, Tommy’s Honour is a lovely film, best enjoyed with a glass of single malt on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Be warned though – it’s no fairy-tale – and a box of tissues might not be amiss when you reach the final act. But for those of us who are making the journey back to St Andrews in the next few weeks, it’s a welcome reminder of what is waiting for us at the other end; although times may be tough, with every day bringing new developments and concerns, it’s nice to know that there are some places that will never change.
Tommy’s honour is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.