By Ali Moosavi.
Sometimes it is difficult to establish yourself in an industry where your father has a legendary status. In a few cases, such as Michael and Kirk Douglas, it has happened. Though Jason Connery has been acting in films for over 30 years, he has not managed to come out of his father’s shadow. But, when your father is Sean Connery, adored world over and creator of an icon like James Bond, it is a mighty tough task. However, since 2007, Jason Connery has tried his hand at directing and it is a safe bet that finally with Tommy’s Honour, he will come out of his father’s shadow and make a name for himself as a very capable director.
Tommy’s Honour is on the surface a golf story about a Scottish father and son, Old Tom and Young Tommy Morris (played by Peter Mulllan and Jack Lowden, respectively) who took golf to the modern era and helped to transform it from a game played mainly by the British upper class to the popular game that it is today. However, it will be an injustice to call Tommy’s Honour a golf film. It is a fascinating insight to a father-son relationship, a poignant love story, a critique of the class system in Britain and hypocrisy in religion, and many other things. And with so many twists and turns, it is almost difficult to believe that it is, in fact, a true story.
Film International sat down to talk with its director, Jason Connery.
This is an incredible story and it is amazing that it hasn’t been told before. How did you get involved with it?
I’m slightly perturbed by the fact that I have been playing golf for many years and I did not know this story. Specially since I have a cottage in the Borders which is two-and-a-half-hours’ drive from St. Andrews. I have played there and had seen a lot of things about Old Tom but had never heard about Young Tommy. I got a call from one of the producers who bought the rights to the book Tommy’s Honour by Kevin Cook (2008). He asked me to read it with the idea of me directing a film based on it. I read the book in one sitting and just loved the story. I thought it was extraordinary with so many layers to it. I rang him and said that I love this, it’s fantastic but, you know, it’s not a golf film. There was quite a long pause because I think he thought that it was very much a golf film! I said of course there is a backdrop of golf and men who were passionate about the game and the beginning of the modern game, but there is also the love story between the father and son and between Young Tommy and his wife Meg and the power of the church and the upper and lower class and the sense of generational change. I said I’d love to direct the film and can’t wait to start.
As you said, there are so many themes in the story: the father and son relationship, a poignant love story, class system, religion…. Was any of these themes particularly appealing to you or was it the summation of them that you loved?
The interesting thing about making a film is that once you dive in the story, you hone in and read it in your own voice, which is different to everyone else who reads it. But when you are telling a story in the film, it is a very visual medium and the only way you can internalize the characters’ thoughts is by voiceover. What happens when you start telling a story like this is that you have the historical events and then you build on those and start setting up the private moments which for me are the most interesting parts. The layers take time to establish themselves and the script is really a skeleton for the actors to come and, working with the director, flesh out the characters. Working with Peter Mullan, Jack, Ophelia (Lovibond), and all the cast, in essence added elements and it’s only in the editing process that you really start to pull off hopefully as much nuances as possible.
You have Peter Mullan and Sam Neil, who are old hands at acting and the young actors Jack Lowden and Ophelia Lovibond. How did the dynamics of these different generations of actors play out in the shooting?
They’re all very different people and my job is to create an environment where they can all play together, feel safe, and feel it’s OK to fall over and muck up and feel confident in my ability to guide them. That is my main aim. Jack adored Peter as an actor and I have to say Peter is a wonderful actor but also a lovely man. They immediately had a level of communication which I think made a huge difference in their ability to act together. And Sam, in that sense, was playing an upper-class character. Peter and Sam would talk and have a laugh but when they were playing a scene together, for example the scene in Tom’s shop, there was this immediate deference and they both captured it perfectly for me. I did not want to vilify the upper-class characters because that was how the world was and that’s how they saw it. Then you had Jack in the middle who was always questioning that and they played together wonderfully.
As writers, we all had a quote above our desk when we are writing: “every new idea starts as a blasphemy.” That was a real building block for the generational difference between Tom and Tommy.
There have been a lot of American films about golf: comedies, dramas, etc. But I can’t remember a single British film which had anything to do with golf, even though the game was invented there. Why do you think that is?
For me, the thing that makes sport incredibly exciting is the fact that it is live and therefore anything can happen and nobody knows how it is going to unfold. When you reenact a sporting event, it is very dangerous to make the driving force behind a film, the outcome of, say, a sport team event. I worked hard at showing the highlights of games but it was always the emotional elements going on for the characters that hopefully were as important, or maybe more important than the outcome of the game.
Britain has a tradition of sports but I think they are loath to talk about their triumph; I think that America sees itself in a much more heroic way than the UK does. The Americans very often want to show their heroes and I think the Brits have a tendency to acknowledge them but not to promote them in the same way.
Has your father seen the film and, if so, what did he think of it?
Yes, he has. I was very lucky because my father lives in the Bahamas and it showed in the Bahamian Film Festival, which is just down the road from where he lives. He did come and see it and was really lovely about it. One of the things that was tremendously important to me was that it was accessible and did not feel too much like a film where you were sitting outside a story and looking in. I worked hard to make a film where you actually felt as though you were in that world and my father’s first words when he saw the film was that as soon as it started, he felt as though he was invited into their world and was very invested in the outcomes and the story as a whole. So, in that sense, it was lovely and he said that he really enjoyed it.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015) and is based in the United Arab Emirates.