The Sense of an Ending
Directed by: Ritesh Batra
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Emily Mortimer, Harriet Walter and Michelle Dockery
Rated PG-13, for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language
1 hr. 48 min.

Part of Great Britain’s contribution to the cinema is how assiduously English films demonstrate the similarities and the differences in our cultures. The personality of this work, The Sense of an Ending, would take on a wealth of unneeded histrionic disorders were it set in New York, Los Angeles or even the frosty climes of Nome, Alaska. Adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’ award-winning 2011 novel, the dry wit, the irony, the venerable British stiff upper lip are all present, over a mélange of flashbacks that intertwine with a current timeline. At its core, The Sense of an Ending is a mystery, its drapes revealing more and more as they’re drawn.

The movie’s star, and firm hand at the tiller, is Jim Broadbent, 2002 Academy Award-winner for his supporting role in Iris. A veteran of every type of film, from The Crying Game to a couple of Harry Potter efforts, he’s the essence of English idiosyncrasy as Tony Webster. Tony’s very pregnant daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), calls her father “mudge,” short for curmudgeon, an apt moniker for the camera shop owner, who has a patient ex-wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter), and a tendency to offer the occasional poisonous barb.

In the graying autumn of his years, Tony receives a letter from Sarah Ford, a now-deceased woman from his past. She’s bequeathed to him an object that her daughter Veronica (Tony’s girlfriend, long ago) will not give up. Tony reflects, and unburdens details of his relationships with Sarah and Veronica to an incredulous Margaret.

With some rock ’n’ roll nuggets like Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and Irma Thomas’ version of the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side” as backing, we travel the labyrinth of Tony’s history with the Ford ladies, his days at university and his friend, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn). Intricately directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox), the past and present blend seamlessly, sometimes enmeshed, era-in-era, with older Tony walking into a party populated by revelers of his youth: a smooth, engrossing visual device.

Tony’s pursuit of his bequeathal leads him to an initially unpleasant reunion with Veronica, played by Charlotte Rampling. This was particularly inspired casting. Fifty years ago, Rampling was the smoky-eyed, beautiful, shrewish roommate of Lynn Redgrave’s Georgy Girl, the embodiment of 1960s Carnaby Street London. Freya Mavor, as young Veronica, could be Rampling’s granddaughter, the resemblance is that strong. She’s every bit as striking and alluring as the older actress was in 1966. Rampling’s current-day Veronica is the cool, extrapolated version of the woman who once was.

Emily Mortimer, most recently of the HBO series The Newsroom, is zesty as Sarah, working with limited, but pivotal, screen time. Also of note are the talented actors playing central characters in their youth: Billy Howle as young Tony, and Joe Alwyn’s elusive phantom, wafting in history’s mists, Adrian Finn.

As Tony, getting to the bottom of the enigma from half a century past, Broadbent alternates that great British reserve with inextinguishable regret, the former through words alone, and the latter with devastating expressions.

The twists and turns leave you wondering, as Tony’s story and previously unknown facts weave and wind themselves to a conclusion. The “Aha!” moments, and the feelings derived from them, are summed up in the title itself: You get the sense of an ending, because much is left to wonder about. A truth you can take away is that words and actions have consequences that cannot be weighed, sometimes over generations. That simple, unvarnished, irrefutable verity supplies the film’s poignancy. Its innate British sensibility accounts for all else.