Based on the novel by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending follows pensioner Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) as he is unexpectedly confronted by a pivotal moment from his past.
Present day London is set against 1960s Bristol as the film deftly dives between Tony’s past and present, eschewing the novel’s more linear chronology. At times the flashbacks are let down by feeling like yet another British class drama, particularly at the boys’ public school, and during an awkward visit to his girlfriend Veronica’s (Charlotte Rampling) home. But the memories retain poignancy thanks to the strength of Billy Howle and Freya Mavor, playing the characters’ younger versions.
As it becomes clear that Tony is not being entirely truthful with both his family and himself, we begin to see his older self inserted into his memories. It’s a useful visual device as Tony is gradually forced to face his past. Broadbent is wonderfully touching as the increasingly-lost Tony, even as his curmudgeonly ways slide towards downright unstable, while Harriet Walter as Margaret and Michelle Dockery as Susie ground the present day with warmth and humour.
Thankfully, Nick Payne’s script doesn’t try to fill in the gaps of Barnes’ novel: key questions are never resolved and key characters’ stories are never truly told. Director Ritesh Batra, in his English language debut, handles his source material with sensitivity and restraint. Tony is often pushed to the edge of the frame, shot from an angle. He is not at the centre of things, Batra reminds us; his story is just a single perspective.
At its heart, The Sense of an Ending is about nostalgia. Crucially, that nostalgia isn’t concerned with how things really were, but how we wanted them to be. While the lack of answers may frustrate some, the assured direction of Batra and an affecting performance from Broadbent make this a film to remember.
CAST: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery
DIRECTOR: Ritesh Batra
WRITERS: Nick Payne (screenplay), Julian Barnes (novel)
SYNOPSIS: A man becomes haunted by his past and is presented with a mysterious legacy that causes him to rethink his current situation in life.