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Voyage Round My Father, A (1982)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Looking back on his early life, a son recalls the incident that permanently blinded his father: while father and son are gardening together, the father accidentally hits his head on a branch, causing the retinas to detach from his eyeballs. The father's blindness is thereafter a taboo subject within the family and is tactfully ignored.

With the assistance of his wife, the father maintains his career as a divorce barrister in London. His routine involves being chauffeured daily to the local train station, and being briefed during the train journey by his wife, to the occasional embarrassment of other passengers in the carriage. His legal colleagues and opponents similarly accustom themselves to his condition. At home, much time is spent tending to his large garden, especially disposing of earwigs among the dahlias, and visitors are vigorously avoided.

The narrator is sent to boarding school as a young boy, where he is taught by various eccentric teachers: 'Noah', the headmaster, who instructs the boys on the facts of life; the maths teacher, 'Ham', who instantly atones for his bad-tempered outbursts; and the ukelele-playing 'Japhet', who compares his romantic woes to those of King Edward with Mrs Simpson, and consequently resigns his post on the day of the King's abdication in 1936. The son befriends a boy called Reigate, whose boasts about his mother's beauty are proved false when she appears on a rainy Remembrance Day. This is also an occasion for the son's father to blithely ignore the hymn being sung and to bellow a ditty at the top of his lungs. The mother and father do, however, prove an enthusiastic audience for a World War One play that the son has written, and which he stages with Reigate.

When the son leaves school during World War Two, he expresses an interest in pursuing his writing talent, but is encouraged by his father to study law. Wartime also sees the arrival in the local village of a lesbian couple, Bill and Daphne, who receive the usual cold shoulder from the father when they pay a visit to the house. While strolling in the countryside as his father imparts paternal advice, the son spots the women in a romantic embrace and beats a hasty retreat, without telling his father why.

While working as assistant director on a wartime propaganda film, the son meets the scriptwriter, a married woman called Elizabeth, and is attracted by her outspokenness A relationship develops. Years later, having been a barrister for nine months, the son drives the now divorced Elizabeth to his parents' home to announce his intention to marry her. The father deliberately antagonises Elizabeth, whose ultimate riposte breaks the family taboo by referring to his blindness. Alone with Elizabeth, the father attempts to dissuade her from the marriage, supposedly for her benefit, not his son's. The attempt fails, and the couple are married.

The son follows in his father's footsteps to become a divorce barrister, with writing as a sideline, but with three children to support, including those from Elizabeth's previous marriage, money is short. The father retires from his career, also with scant savings. When a lucrative divorce win by the son is celebrated with champagne, Elizabeth queries the morality of the win and bemoans the fact that the son increasingly resembles his father, with whom she feels he has never had a serious relationship, to the detriment of his writing. Beneath the father's natural combativeness toward Elizabeth, a mutual fondness appears to develop.

As the father's health fails, his world focuses ever more tightly on his garden domain, until the onset of one final summer illness. The doctor tending to the bedridden patient instructs the son not to let him sleep, but left alone with his father, the son seems unable to say anything and watches him breathe his last. He expresses his loss and loneliness after the bereavement directly to the viewer. The son leaves the house to go into the garden and play with his own children.