Nineteenth-century golfing prodigy Tom Morris (Jack Lowden) falls out with his famous father (Peter Mullan) when he challenges the nascent sport's establishment and with his mother (Therese Bradley) when he courts an older waitress (Olivia Lovibond), who once gave birth out of wedlock.
The hero's inability to swing a club has undermined golfing biopics like Robert Redford's The Legend of Bagger Vance, Rowdy Herrington's Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius and Bill Paxton's The Greatest Game Ever Played and Peter Mullan and Jack Lowden are no more convincing in this fond memoir of Fife pioneers, Old and Young Tom Morris. But the primitive nature of the hickory-shafted irons and the state of the earliest courses gives the leads some leeway in a father-son study that should have bristled with subtext, given the paternity of director Jason Connery.
Little occurs beneath the surface of this boilerplate melodrama.
However, little occurs beneath the surface of this boilerplate melodrama, which keeps threatening to explore class, family ties, the status of women and Scotland's relationship with its southern neighbour before the latest in a relentless line of mundanely melodramatic incidents intervenes. Screenwriters Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook cause themselves problems by failing either to establish the hierarchical structure of the Royal and Ancient or differentiate between challenge and championship golf in the mid-1860s. Thus, the magnitude of Lowden's rebellion against St Andrews captain Sam Neill is less readily appreciable than his defiance of Presbyterian mother Therese Bradley in marrying compromised waitress Ophelia Lovibond.
The performances are infinitely superior to the digital effects Connery employs to make the balls behave on the putting greens. But he would have done better to stick to the sporting saga and its enduringly pertinent political connotations.
Telling an unfamiliar tale in a highly predictable manner, this is a laudable, but lightweight tribute to golf's founding fathers.