Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: The Sense of an Ending

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: The Sense of an Ending

Article excerpt

The Sense of an Ending is an adaptation of Julian Barnes's 2011 Man Booker prize-winning novel starring Jim Broadbent (we love Jim Broadbent), Harriet Walter (we love Harriet Walter) and Charlotte Rampling (we love, love, love Charlotte Rampling). With such a cast, you'd be minded to think it can't fail, and it doesn't in this respect. The performances are transfixing throughout. But it does not satisfy emotionally, as the ending of The Sense of an Ending makes no sense. It's a (Non)Sense of an Ending. Same with the book, which, on completing, I think I threw across the room with a: what? Is that it?

As directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox), and as set in a London where you seem to be able to get from Highgate to a south-west postcode in a jiffy -- I couldn't help noticing; sorry -- the film has Broadbent playing Tony Webster, who is divorced, runs a small vintage-camera shop, and is melancholic, grumpy, wry. In other words, it's a role with 'Jim' and 'Broadbent' written all over it. And when a role has 'Jim' and 'Broadbent' written all over it, then you want Jim Broadbent to play it, and he manages to make Tony sympathetic, and even endearing, whereas otherwise he almost certainly wouldn't be. Tony lives a dull, closed-down, emotionally detached kind of life, which you may not quite believe, perhaps because Broadbent makes Tony rather too alert -- those bright-blue eyes, have they ever missed anything? -- but you just have to buy this, plus the way he's suddenly rocked to his core by an event that forces him to Confront. His. Past. This occurs when the mother of his university girlfriend, Veronica, wills him £500 and the diary of his school friend, Adrian, who dated Veronica after they went their separate ways. Why was Tony in her will? Why does she have Adrian's diary? What does the diary say? We are hyped for disclosure and then, ideally, closure. That, rightly or wrongly, is our narrative expectation. Yet we will be sorely thwarted here.

The action is divided, somewhat prosaically, between two timelines. There's the past, with Tony flashing back to his schooldays (he is played by Billy Howle as a young man) and his friendship with Adrian (Joe Alwyn) -- we are told he was brilliant, yet we see little evidence -- as well as his relationship with Veronica (Freya Mavor), who takes him to stay with her family for a very odd kind of weekend filled with sexual tension, and fried eggs gone wrong. …

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