The title is from the 1878 painting by WF Yeames, which Blake Morrison later borrowed as the title for his 1993 book – a moving response to the death of his father that favours accurate recollection over extended meditation or self-flagellation. In both book and film, we move back and forth between a few months in the early 1990s that see the illness and death of Morrison’s father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent), a retired doctor in a Yorkshire village, and the late ’50s and ’60s when Blake (played then by Bradley Johnson) is a curious teenager, embarrassed by his father’s gregarious personality and suspicious of his relationship with bubbly family friend Beaty (Sarah Lancashire). The screen darkens for the later episodes, as Arthur discovers he has cancer, falls ill quickly and dies, forcing Blake (now played by Colin Firth) to confront his stormy relationship with his father and help care for him in his final days with his mother, Kim (Juliet Stevenson). The portrayal of death is stark and unpolished.
The transfer of a first-person memoir from page to screen is often tricky, yet Anand Tucker (‘Hilary and Jackie’) and writer David Nicholls manage the task mostly with success, largely by sticking rigidly to the detail and structure of Morrison’s book. It’s not a radical solution, and visually the results are unexceptional. However, the story is well-handled and sensitively performed so as to avoid excess sentimentality and to do justice to Morrison’s work and, one imagines, his father. It’s certainly a moving film, and many will find its close examination of a father-son relationship particularly cathartic and reflective.