When Did You Last See Your Father? (PG-13) ★★★½

Review Date: June 6th, 2008

A movie every father and son should be required to see together. Jim Broadbent's towering performance should be remembered at awards time, and Colin Firth is perfect in this touching drama of memory and transition.


Positioned as a memory play, When Did You Last See Your Father? attempts to explore the lifelong relationship between a father dying of terminal cancer and his son, told through flashbacks and present-day scenes. Arthur Morrison (Broadbent) and his wife Kim (Juliet Stevenson) are both doctors in a small town in England. They have two kids, Gillian (Claire Skinner) and older brother Blake (Firth), who is now an author in his 40s with two kids of his own. The story revolves around how Blake tries to come to terms with his father's mortality and freely travels in time, opening with a sequence in which the 8-year-old Blake experiences an embarrassing car incident as his father drives the family to an event. As the film hops and skips through the family's life--past and present--we see sad and happy moments, focusing on Blake's teen years and early career where dad always seems to upstage him to become the center of attention. Played out against the drama of Arthur's imminent death, Blake grows to accept it--and all that has come before.


Although there is a fine supporting cast, the film is what they call in the business a two-hander--a searing drama focusing on the relationship between father and son, as played by two of Britain's finest, Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. They are both superb and, by the very nature of the film, given great opportunity to show their acting chops. It is Broadbent's film right from the beginning, however, as his Arthur spans 40 years, while Firth's role is shared by some other fine actors (Bradley Johnson, Matthew Beard), playing younger versions of Blake. Broadbent gives one of those dominating, over-the-top, confounding portrayals of a proud man whose immense presence permeates every aspect of his son's life. Against this kind of formidable competition, Firth is wonderfully understated and particularly effective in the film's final few scenes. Stevenson and Skinner, along with Gina McKee as the grown Blake's wife, handle the less demanding female roles with skill and compassion.


Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) doesn't try to overpower the simple and literate story with any tricks instead letting When Did You Last See Your Father? live and breathe on its own, powered by exceptional performances and a first-rate screenplay by David Nichols. Although the film is based on the actual memoir by the real-life Blake Morrison, the story itself is universal and earns its laughs--and particularly its tears--by telling universal truths all of us can identify with. Tucker proves himself to be a fine actor's director, especially with Broadbent, whose blustery character could have sailed out of control. Instead, we understand this man, even if we don't always like him and much of that is due to the nicely nuanced command Tucker has over the proceedings. A small, intimate film with numerous flashbacks like this one is trickier than it looks, but ultimately it touches the heart and proves a worthwhile journey perfectly timed for Father's Day.

Bottom Line

Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.