When Did You Last See Your Father? (United Kingdom, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
When Did You Last See Your Father? Poster

At first glance, When Did You Last See Your Father? might seem like another movies about sons and fathers. In a sense, it is, but it goes a little deeper. When Did You Last See Your Father? is about sons and how they see their fathers. I once read that, in the bloom of youth, children regard their parents as knowing all. As teenagers, they believe their parents know nothing. As adults, they think their parents might have known a few things after all. And, with the onset of old age, they wish their parents were still around so they could learn from them. This is the cycle this film presents.

When Did You Last See Your Father? opens in 1989 with author Blake Morrison (Colin Firth) receiving an award for excellence in writing. Within months, his father, Arthur (Jim Broadbent), will be stricken with terminal cancer. The story tells how Blake and those close to him - his mother, Kim (Juliet Stevenson); his sister, Gillian (Claire Skinner); and his wife, Kathy (Gina McKee) - cope with Arthur's decline and death. For Blake, this means getting in touch with his feelings and filtering through the memories of his father that define their relationship. Although not prone to outward displays of affection, Arthur may have been a better father than Blake gives him credit for. In the end, as Arthur fades away, losing pieces of his identity with every passing day, Blake must ask the essential question: When did I last see my father?

The film transpires over two time periods - one is the present (1989) and the other is when Blake (Matthew Beard) is in his teens, worrying over whether the world will end as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a youth, Blake views his father with disdain. He sees Arthur as a petty schemer and a philanderer who may have fathered a child out of wedlock. Blake is sleeping with the family's pretty Scottish maid, Sandra (Elaine Cassidy), and he suspects his father would like to get into her bed. Looking back on events from a distance of more than 25 years, however, Blake sees things a little differently.

Most of When Did You Last See Your Father? feels and looks familiar. Director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie, Shopgirl) constructs the movie out of scenes that might have come from other, similarly themed motion pictures. What makes this movie unique and gives it poignancy is what transpires during the closing moments. The question asked by the title takes on deeper meaning once one has seen the film, and the way in which Blake must confront this provides When Did You Last See Your Father? with emotional power. This is a cinematic case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

The acting is top-notch. With a series of character roles in recent years, Colin Firth has managed to put the iconic Mr. Darcy behind him. Jim Broadbent, now the proud owner of an Oscar, creates a motion picture rarity: a father who is neither a saint nor a demon - one who contains his share of admirable and less-than-admirable traits but whose overall persona will remind many of their own father. Effective support is provided by Juliet Stevenson as Arthur's supportive wife, Gina McKee as Blake's spouse, and Elaine Cassidy as Blake's first love. (I would have liked to have seen this subplot expanded a little.)

It's easy to make a movie about fathers and sons. It's much harder to make one that resonates with emotional honesty. When Did You Last See Your Father? does this right. It's the ending that brings everything together. In an era when conclusions more often spoil a motion picture than provide closure, it's a pleasure to watch a movie where this is done right.

When Did You Last See Your Father? (United Kingdom, 2007)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2008-06-06
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1