Based on the novel by Julian Barnes, Ritesh Bartra’s “The Sense of an Ending” (CBS Films) will probably remind some audience members of gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s marvelous “45 Years,” and that’s not only because both films starred Charlotte Rampling. The common thread is that the main male characters in both films receive letters that stir up the dust of their pasts.
In the case of “The Sense of an Ending,” self-absorbed divorced camera repair shop owner Tony (Jim Broadbent) receives a letter from Sarah (Emily Mortimer), the late mother of his first serious girlfriend Veronica (Freya Mavor). The letter was intended to be sent following Sarah’s passing, and something is missing from the accompanying package. When Tony meets with Sarah’s solicitor about the omitted item, he is told that it is in Veronica’s possession. Tony requests that whatever it is be returned to him.
Through flashbacks we see the young Tony (Billy Howle) and Veronica meet at a party when they are both still students in the 1960s. We also watch Tony’s interactions with friends and classmates, including Adrian (Joe Alwyn). While he is dating her, Tony meets Veronica’s family during a weekend visit to their home; the first time he encounters the lovely Sarah. The turning point during these early years occurs when, after learning that Veronica and Adrian have become a couple, Tony writes a vicious and cruel letter to them. It is shortly after that that Adrian commits suicide.
Meanwhile, Tony’s present-day life is in a bit of disarray. His daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), who has chosen to have a child on her own, has enlisted Tony to be her birthing partner in Lamaze classes. Tony’s relationship with ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter), alternates between friendly and downright hostile. So, in a way, the chance to revisit his past is a sort of respite. But little does Tony realize that there will be shocking revelations associated with the nostalgia he is experiencing.
“The Sense of an Ending” isn’t a great film, but it’s not a bad one either. It simply lacks the tension that the previously mentioned Haigh was able to create and maintain throughout the superior “45 Years.” Rampling, who was nominated for an Oscar for “45 Years,” once again steals every scene in which she appears. Rating: B-