Based on the memoir by British writer Blake Morrison, who is played in the film by Colin Firth, the story unfolds through Blake's eyes.  Blake's father Arthur (Jim Broadbent) is rapidly dying of cancer, cared for at home by Blake's mother, Kim (Juliet Stevenson).  Blake's parents are both physicians.  Blake is extremely ambivalent toward his father and reluctantly goes back to his childhood home to visit the dying man.  As his father lies dying Blake hashes out within himself his conflicted feelings toward his father -- long-standing anger, contempt, guilt, occasional grudging admiration.  The film flashes back and forth between the present and Blake's memories of the past.

As seen through Blake's eyes, his father is bombastic, overbearing, a deceiving and self-deceiving individual.  Blake recalls numerous instances where his father called him "fathead," barged unannounced into his room, humiliated him in front of others, competed with him for the attention of young women, and disparaged his choice of career as a writer.  Blake is deeply wounded by the knowledge that his father has been carrying on a romance with Aunt Beaty (Sarah Lancashire ) behind his mother's back -- although his mother is painfully aware of the infidelity.  In addition to recalling various humiliating and annoying situations with his father, Blake is enveloped in memories of his first sexual relationship with the family's maid and even makes a brief pass at her in the present, after his father's funeral.  He is so fixated on his obsessions -- with his first love and with his father -- that when his wife speaks with him on the telephone, he is distant and hostile toward her.
Blake's mother nurses her dying husband while Blake hovers in the background, hoping for an opportunity to talk to his father while he is still lucid, in what is bound to be a futile attempt at having a revelatory discussion about their fraught relationship -- such a discussion is bound to be futile because Arthur does not admit to his faults and even as he is on his deathbed, seeks reassurance from his wife that they had a happy life together.


This is a sensitive, beautifully acted film about difficult parent-child relationships and the challenge of coming to terms with such relationships when parents age, become terminally ill, and die.  The film explores in-depth the dilemma that adult children face when confronted with unresolved conflicted relationships with elderly or dying parents, and the tendency to regress back to childhood resentments and longings. Blake doesn't get to have the frank discussion with his father that he hopes for, and therefore feels "cheated" after the death.  He is aware of how his father metaphorically receded from view during his last days and attempts to "see" him as he was before his illness.  The memory that he conjures forth is no longer from childhood, but rather from the recent past when the two of them bickered about installation of a chandelier but then, after it was hung, together enjoyed how beautifully it shone when the light was turned on -- "the moment of truth."
Also well depicted is the reality of caring at home for dying family members -- the long hours, physically demanding tasks, ambivalence, sorrow, devotion.  While the subject matter in this film is not cheerful, it is treated with sensitivity and insight.  Older adults will be provoked to consider their own unresolved childhood-parent relationships; teenagers and young adults should find resonance in the portrayal of the teenaged Blake (Matthew Beard) as well as prodded toward the challenges that lie ahead for them as they mature.


Screenplay by David Nicholls, based on the book by Blake Morrison

Primary Source

Sony Pictures Classics