Review: The Sense of an Ending (2017)

The Sense of an Ending (2017)

Directed by: Ritesh Batra | 108 minutes | drama | Actors: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, James Wilby, Edward Holcroft, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, Peter Wight, Hilton McRae, Jack Loxton, Timothy Innes, Andrew Buckley, Karina Fernandez

We are all the biographers of our own lives. From the shreds of information we have about our past, we write an autobiography in our head and then pretend it’s the truth. And that while missing or misinterpreted information (perhaps you were an illegitimate child, perhaps you unknowingly escaped abortion) would turn your life upside down. But we just need a story to feel complete.

This fact forms the core of the English feature film ‘The Sense of an Ending’. In it we meet old Tony Webster, a grumpy seller of vintage cameras. He is divorced, but still has a good relationship with his ex and his heavily pregnant daughter. One day Tony receives a message that he has inherited a diary from the mother of a former lover. That brings up all kinds of memories of his early years, memories that may not quite match reality.

‘The Sense of an Ending’ is a BBC production based on the Booker Prize winning novel by Julian Barnes. Then not much can go wrong. The story smoothly switches from present to past, with flashbacks sometimes repeated as events are seen in a new light. The acting is top notch, which cannot be missed with top class performers such as Jim Broadbent, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery and Harriet Walter. That relative youngsters like Billy Howle and Freya Mavor can effortlessly handle this level is a pleasant surprise.

Yet the combination of BBC and Barnes is not so fortunate. The BBC increasingly opts for the safe middle, to avoid frayed edges. This film is in line with that trend. That Barnes would one day win the Booker Prize had been written in the stars for years, but his earlier work was more prickly, more pungent and hit you harder. ‘The Sense of an Ending’ is a novel to be sniffed at, but it’s more of an aptitude than a sizzling work of art. It is also distant and cerebral, even stronger in the film than in the book.

‘The Sense of an Ending’ is therefore not bad. The film teaches you something about human memory and about the blindness to your own history. At the same time, the film remains distant and nostalgia wins out over the darkness, as it still prevailed in the novel. So certainly not a topper, but proven quality.

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