This article was first published in 2017.
Amongst all the accolades for his 2017 movie, Jason Connery most cherishes the one given to it by his Dad.
After all, as a historic golfing drama focused on a father-son relationship, Tommy’s Honour brought back a lot of memories for the then 54-year-old actor-turned-director.
“My father used to play in this pro-celebrity golf tournament every year and most of the time it was up in Scotland,” the former Robin of Sherwood star recollected. “I have fantastic memories growing up of me and my brother and my stepmother and father playing golf up at Gleneagles or Turnberry and even a couple of times at St Andrews.”
The latter is the setting for the 1860s drama which recounts the triumphant and tragic tale of young golfing professional Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) and his father Tom (Peter Mullan). They were both influential in the early days of the sport, helping establish the rules of 18-hole golf and dominating the first few Open Championships (a tournament now better known as the British Open).
Connery said that while he knew a little about Tom Morris because of owning a cottage about a two-hour drive from St Andrews where Morris’ name is synonymous with the golf club, he knew nothing about Tommy.
“It wasn’t until I got a phonecall from a producer asking me if I was interested in telling the story and offering to send me the [Kevin Cook’s 2007] book on the pair. I read it and I was blown away by the layers of the story and how dramatic his life had been.”
Admitting to being so wrapped up in the story that he read the book in a day-and-a-half, Connery said there were so many elements about it that appealed to him. “There’s the love story, the father-son relationship, the church and its influence in the local community and the tension between the upper and lower classes. All these things that were really interesting, cloaked in the beginning of the game.”
Filmed in Scotland was a necessity, he said, even if that meant battling some less-than-ideal weather conditions.
“Every morning we’d get up and be out on the golf course in 30mph winds, with wigs blowing and hair flying off. We’d spend half-the-time chasing them down the fairways.”
Connery added that he enjoyed having locals as extras and shooting in places key to the original story.
“In the film, there’s a fight in a bunker in Musselburgh and the bunker we shot in is where the actual fight took place.”
Amongst those he met while filming was the one living descendent of Tom Morris.
“Weirdly, he outlived his entire family, including his grandchildren. He died at age 86, but in the most unfortunate way for such an enormous figure.
“He wasn’t allowed to be a member of the Royal and Ancient club, so he was a member of the St Andrews Golfing Club and, one day, instead of turning into the bathroom, he went through the wrong door and literally took a header into the cellar and died.”
Other Morris stories came out of the woodwork during production as well. How Tom was the first person in the area to sit in a car and how he swam in the sea every day.
“People were constantly coming in with stories and newspaper cuttings,” laughed Connery.
Despite that, he said that rather than striving to make his Tommy’s Honour historically accurate, he wanted to make the film as accessible to as many people as possible.
“Yes, a love story and a relationship between a father and a son offers very universal themes, but I do know that golf is a polarising sport. There are people who hate it and people who love it. I didn’t want this to be a story that only golfers wanted to see, I hoped it would cross that margin. The people who I’ve been around who have seen the film have often said they knew nothing about golf and were very happy to find out things because they had no understanding of the game at all and this helped them to understand it.”
As part of that accessibility, Connery said he also wanted to make it feel as though, “you’re in the period, as opposed to standing back and looking at it from outside”.
Which is why he places acting legend and former James Bond Sean Connery’s praise for Tommy’s Honour above its award for Best Feature at the British Academy Scotland Awards in 2016.
“For me, he said a lot of lovely things, but, in particular, he said that as soon as the movie started, he felt as though he was in the world. That was a beautiful thing.
“In all honesty, if you’re going to tell a story the only way an audience will take to the film is if they’re invested in the world – and, if you’re telling a period film, it’s even harder for them to get into it. So that was a huge compliment for me.”
Tommy’s Honour (M) is now available to stream on YouTube, iTunes and GooglePlay.