by Tom Cade, Editor
It’s about time for a golf movie. And it’s about time for a golf movie about the first family of golf.
The movie tells the story of a father and son, Old Tom and Young Tom Morris, who are credited with establishing, beginning with the 1860 British Open, the foundation of the game of golf that we know today.
The movie is based on the book “Tommy’s Honor,” which was written by Kevin Cook and published in 2007, and which received the Herbert Warren Wind National Book Award from the United States Golf Association in 2007.
Directed by Jason Connery, the son of famous actor Sean Connery, the movie debuted in Scotland last year, and won the 2016 British Academy Scotland Award for best picture. The movie opens in the U.S. on April 14, 2017.
Connery worked with screenwriters Kevin Cook and Pamela Marin (Cook’s wife) in adapting the script from the book. “Pamela doesn’t play golf,” Connery said. “But she knows characters. And Kevin knew all the technical aspects of the game, so they blended the story well. Yes, it’s a ‘golf’ movie, but that by itself is not enough and it would be uninteresting if we didn’t develop the characters to get the audience actually involved with the story.”
Connery also knew the dynamics of a sports story. “Sports is exciting because it’s live, because you are in the moment with it and you don’t know the outcome,” he said. “But because this is a sports story from the past, because we know the outcome, I knew I couldn’t hang the success of the film on the outcome of the golf that the Morris’ played. I knew the audience simply wouldn’t be interested unless they cared about the characters as people.”
One of his favorite scenes from “Tommy’s Honour” is when Meg, Young Tom’s new wife, confronts Tom’s mother for not accepting her into the family because of her past. “There’s a big difference between telling a scene and living it,” he said. “I love this scene because we are able to see these two people as very real, with everything laid bare, and we are able to identify with both characters, without judging one against the other.”
He says it was important to him that the film, and the characters, have universal appeal, and he wanted it to be historically accurate. “I wanted to show that these were people just living their lives. I wanted to portray their lives as it was in the 1860s – they work in their shops, they go to church, they walk through the market, they visit the pubs at night, they live under the hierarchy of the time.”
The movie was shot in 33 days in 15 locations across Scotland, with a caravan of 39 trucks rolling from spot to spot. “We got lucky with the weather,” Connery says of the famously “soft” Scottish climate. “During the pre-planning stages, the weather was horrible, and I thought ‘Uh oh, we are going to be in trouble.’ But we probably had rain for only half a day. We did have wind – 40 mph at North Berwick (east of Edinburgh) where we were filming the Morris’ final match.” Connery says he remembers running around the golf course trying to pick up beards that had blown off the actors’ faces.
Although most of the actors in the movie are well-known in Europe and the UK, for American audiences the only actor they might recognize is Sam Neill, who plays the staunch captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, where Old Tom works as the “Keeper of the Greens.”
Neill’s inclusion in the cast was purposeful, says Connery. “We wanted the audience to have the sense of really being in the place, in the moment, to be authentic, and having a bunch of ‘name’ actors would have made that impossible. When you have a good ensemble cast and a well-told story, it helps the story feel real. Neill’s character is from England, not Scotland, and being the only ‘known’ actor makes him even more of an outsider from the others. And I think this casting strategy worked.”
Connery was born and raised in Scotland. For the past 21 years he lived in Los Angeles, until moving to upstate New York just last month. His father, the actor Sean Connery, taught him the game.
“Having grown up in Scotland, and having grown up with a father who loves to play golf, I have wonderful memories of golfing vacations with him,” Connery says. “It seems every summer we’d take off for 10 days and play all over, Turnberry, Troon, Prestwick.”
Because of these memories, Connery feels he had a close understanding of the father/son dynamic that is portrayed in the movie between Old Tom and Young Tom.
Connery was born in 1963 and began working as a professional actor in 1983. He has more than 60 acting roles to his credit. He made his directorial debut in 2008 with the film “Pandemic.”
“As a director, I like looking at a story from a broad perspective,” he says. “I like acting and I like actors. Now, as a director, actors know I speak their language, that I can identify with some of the struggles they might be going through in trying to make a scene work, or make a character more real. I like to think that, as a director, I’m there to help the actors feel they’re working on a special project, and that their role in making it special is important.”
The movie has tested well with all audiences, including non-golfers, which the first family of golf would appreciate.