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The Sense of an Ending (2017)

CRUMBLIES… 2 crumblies

Old Jack was feeling intellectual. The mobile library had trundled through the home with its usual selection of large-print horrors and magazines for the thick so I plumped for something based on a book and with a sense of London’s intellectual smugerati about it…

So to a second Jim Broadbent drama after the agonising Le Week-end an adaptation of Julian Barnes‘s The Sense of an Ending.


The story is of a grumpy old man and the diary he nearly gets from the dead mother of a distantly ex-girlfriend.  Well, not quite girlfriend, but she dropped him in favour of his best friend. The best friend killed himself in a drippy-blood-and-bath way back when they were still at uni. This misery all emerges through sweetly shot flashbacks. Freya Mavor comes out of them particularly mysteriously, playing the girlfriend Veronica…who will later turn into Charlotte Rampling. But…um…


Broadbent is Tony Webster, owner of a vintage camera shop. He is snarky and cold – dismissing his postman with casual indifference (Nick Mohammed as the only instantly likeable person in the whole thing). His ex-wife, the effortlessly ex-wifish (Dame!) Harriet Walter (as Margaret Webster) argues Tony into supporting their pregnant daughter at parenting classes. The dryness between Broadbent and Michelle Dockery as his put-upon and heroically single daughter Susie makes for the only comedy on offer here. The birth nearly happens, then doesn’t, then…

But Broadbent is barely noticing. He is first alerted to the diary of Veronica’s mother, then awaits it impatiently, then works with old friends to use the Facebook to track the now Ramplinged Veronica. And then he pretty much stalks her. She maintains the mystery set-up by Freya Mavor, alongside a kind of unfeeling revenge. She gives Broadbent a letter he wrote long ago…and it becomes clear that he has quality punishment coming to him…

Revenge may be the wrong word. What would you call the return of the most destructive moment of spite you’d every succumbed to? Just desserts, perhaps. You’d want the spite to land, though, wouldn’t you? To make the old Broadbent learn from the momentary viciousness of the young one (Billy Howle looking not the least bit like him…and being all the more interesting for it)…

This is a film of emotional ellipses. There are nearly-points and nearly-revelations, but ultimately nothing. After an hour of build-up and curiosity as to why anyone ever let Tony Webster through their door, the film lets the whole thing go. Dockery drops her sprog, Broadbent realises he has always been a dick and apologises to his family, and simply absorbs the wreckage one bitter letter caused: ruining Veronica’s life, triggering the end of someone else’s, etc. I’m going with “etc” because I’m not sure the story cared much beyond revealing the world of a selfish man who’s personal growth amounted to admitting wretchedness over putting it right.  The sense of a selfish man, not his redemption.

And perhaps that’s what disappoints the most. I’m an old man who knows where I went wrong. Mistakes nag. They haunt and they shame. If I didn’t give a damn, or had to be dragged to face them and choked on apologies, what then am I? And what kind of story would I make?

Old Jack is backing off some of the details so you’ve got something to watch. Jim Broadbent is hummingly central to the whole thing and tremendously good, Walters and Dockery make him tolerable, Rampling and Mavor make him unforgivable. The smugerati returned to their inexplicably big beautiful homes and old Jack sat still, pondering what the point of watching this film had been.

The next time the mobile library pitched up I watched fifteen episodes of The Wombles. Uncle Bulgaria may have torn up Wimbledon in his youth, but at least he felt bad enough to keep the common clean in his dotage.

Watch The Sense of an Ending with an antidote to hand.

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