- Wonderful cast and acting
- Interesting story with twists and turns that keep you interested
- Some plot points, twists and relationships between characters not always clearly explained so sometimes doesn’t have the impact it should and makes the pace drag in the first half
- Feels like a real shocking ending is robbed – the final twist seems random and not as engaging as it should
The Sense of an Ending, based on the 2011 novel by Julian Barnes, is a story that centres on history and nostalgia, philosophy and love, flitting back and forth between a memory and the present as they bleed into one another. Much as this may seem on the surface level to be a great British love-story/ drama, it falls short, striking a rather dull tone, but nevertheless includes some excellent performances with a story that you can’t help but invest in.
Grumpy and retired Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) receives a letter informing him that he has been left a diary in a will. Unsure to whom the diary belongs, he starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together to unravel the mystery that all began years ago in his youth.
(Firstly, I have to admit that I haven’t read the book so comparisons to the book in this review will be non-existent and focus solely on the film itself.)
As a premise it seems fairly interesting; personally I quite enjoy stories of people looking back at their lives and seeing how what they did then can impact their present now, an examination into how a simple action could have drastic consequences further down the line. However, despite my personal predilection for these types of stories, the film is a slow starter; it takes some time for interesting events to occur and not all characters and their relationships are clearly defined, requiring a lot of unnecessary guesswork and delays any extra emotional investment in the story or characters until much later in the film. Nevertheless, despite the basics taking a while to secure (made harder by the interweaving storylines of past and present), once it gets going the twists and turns are good, making us enjoy any more guesswork and shocking us at each revelation.
On the other hand the biggest revelation at the end, although an interesting and fairly unexpected twist in the story, isn’t clearly explained, leaving many questions unanswered. Perhaps this was more easily understood in the book, however, although I applaud the effort to “show-not-tell” the revelations in the story, the complexity of the story is a hindrance for the film. One can’t help but come away from this film feeling robbed of the satisfactory, shocking ending it was leading up to.
The parts of story set in the 1960s are particular highlights in my opinion. Beautifully shot, it shows an idealised version of the times, showing also the development of the character of old Tony Webster, initially saying he’s not nostalgic, eventually admitting how he really is.
As we often see in British dramas, this has an exemplary cast that is a joy to watch. From long established greats like Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling, to recently established Emily Mortimer and Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery, to up-and-comers Billy Howle and a surprising turn from Freya Mavor who I haven’t seen since the 3rd generation of Skins (the one we don’t talk about – what a relief she was the best in that lot!). Perfect casting for Jim Broadbent also, as he’s perfect to carry this film. It could be very easy for his character to be unlikable, yet Broadbent seems to bring a lovable side to a bitter old man with the sort of charisma only he can bring. All an excellent cast that do well to carry the story, but particular mention goes to the central four, playing both old and young Tony and Veronica, the central lovers of this story (Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling, Billy Howle and Freya Mavor respectively). To play young versions of acting titans is always an ask and they take this challenge on board marvelously. Freya Mavor and Charlotte Rampling in particular seem to be perfect parallels in their portrayal of young and old Veronica, whereas Billy Howle and Jim Broadbent seem quite different, though this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility since so much can happen to change you in 50+ years, one of the central themes of the story itself.
Whilst unlikely to stand out in British cinematic history, this is a pleasant adaptation of Barnes’ book, an in-depth look at the consequences of love and jealousy, a study of nostalgia, with some wonderful showcases of British acting, although let down by the clumsy narrative that makes the story somewhat less engaging than it should be and occasionally hard to follow.