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Film review: The Sense of an Ending – Jim Broadbent in splendid adaptation of Julian Barnes’ Man Booker prize winner

Indian-born director Ritesh Batra makes an elegant version of the story of an elderly divorcee whose life is turned upside-down when he receives a diary that takes him back to his youth and a past that haunts him

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 7:01am

4/5 stars

Julian Barnes’ Man Booker prize-winning novel gets the big-screen treatment in this quietly splendid British film.

With his usual insight, Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, an elderly divorcee and father-of-one. Slightly out of step with the modern world, he runs a small second-hand camera shop and remains on semi-friendly terms with his ex-wife (Harriet Walter) – partly for the sake of their grown-up daughter (Michelle Dockery), who is pregnant and about to become a single mother.

The real plot kicks in with a blast from the past, as Tony is left a diary in a will from an old acquaintance, an event that sends the film spiralling into well-deployed flashbacks to his public school and college days.

A would-be poet in his youth, the young Tony (played by Billy Howle) recalls his encounters with handsome friend Adrian ( Billy Lynn ’s Joe Alwyn) and Veronica (Freya Major), the elusive girl that comes between them. There’s a neat role too for Emily Mortimer as Veronica’s flirtatious mother.

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Taking on a book that moves back and forth through time and memory is difficult enough, but the Indian-born director Ritesh Batra ( The Lunchbox ) manages it quite elegantly, ruminating on the way the past can hold a spell over the present. Shooting the London settings with refinement, there’s a pleasing rhythm to the film as Tony picks at a psychological scab he’d never fully reckoned with.

Featuring Charlotte Rampling in typically enigmatic form as the older Veronica, it’s a richly thought-provoking attempt to bring Barnes’ story to life.

The Sense of an Ending opens on June 1

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