Despite his grumbling, Tony Webster's (Jim Broadbent) life is rather idyllic. His drinks tea in his charming kitchen and helps the occasional customer in his Leica camera shop; both surroundings practically awash in golden sunlight. His only daughter (Michelle Dockery) is about to make him a grandfather without the bother of a bumbling son-in-law. Even his ex-wife (Harriet Walter), a sharp lawyer, remains on friendly terms with him.
But this wasn't always the case. It's just that Tony doesn't remember; that is, until a bequest arrives in the mail, answering the age-old question—why start the story on this day of all days?
Indian director Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”) and playwright Nick Payne, who adapted the story from Julian Barnes' 2011 novel of the same name, straddle past and present to jog Tony's memories. These involve the events surrounding his breakup with an old flame Veronica, portrayed by both Freya Mavor and Charlotte Rampling, as well as old school chum Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who in history class quotes a non-existent scholar: “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
For better or worse, Tony's history has plenty of documentation, namely a letter he composed in anger, and his friend's diary, the object of the mysterious bequest, which is being withheld from Tony by Veronica. Tony becomes obsessed with the latter, self-centeredly (and mistakenly) believing it will reveal something about his younger self and his relationship with Veronica's mother. Instead, as long-forgotten events emerge, Tony is reminded how little a part he played in the eventual outcome.
The story's very nature saddles Batra with the troublesome task of shooting frame story and jumps back in time—it's not particularly difficult to follow but it is a bit frustrating at times. He and Payne must carefully dole out information only in the order Tony is able to winkle it out of Veronica. So why not simply let Veronica tell the story? Because she's not in need of the reminder that she's not the center; that's been her entire life. Tony, alone in that cosy kitchen, needs it more.