What makes Jim Broadbent such a phenomenal actor? It’s a question not easily answered, but certainly worth consideration. Is it his notable appearances in blockbusters like Moulin Rouge!, Bridget Jones’s Diary or this summer’s fourth Indiana Jones movie?

While always solid support, I’d argue the English actor’s real presence has instead been made with roles in more independently-spirited films like his Oscar-winning turn in Iris, Topsy-Turvy or, perhaps, most recently as eccentric patriarch Arthur Morrison in the touching drama When Did You Last See Your Father?

In the memoir-based film, Broadbent plays the father of acclaimed author Blake Morrison (Colin Firth). After discovering Arthur has a terminal illness, Blake returns to take care of his family while dealing — primarily in flashbacks — with painful memories of his difficult, possibly duplicitous dad.

“I had a sort of head start in knowing about the character I suppose,” Broadbent said while promoting the film in Toronto. “I identified with it as a son of a father and also as a son whose father died in similar circumstances; of cancer, at home, with all the family around.”

The drama is an intelligent, well-crafted tearjerker that explores the complexities of family life.

“(Father and son relationships) are never as simple as sometimes made out,” Broadbent points out. “There is always an awful lot of grey area.”

That “grey area” is exactly what gives this film its emotional impact. While not a clearly dubious character, Arthur does have a quality that has emotionally tortured his son. As director Anand Tucker explains, it’s a subtlety only a pro like Broadbent could have portrayed.

“(Broadbent) manages to be that slightly monstrous, terrible, overbearing creature that Blake gets more and more angry and feels more and more betrayed by,” explains Tucker. “Then at the key moment at the end of the movie, (he) turns it all around and suddenly you realize that he is the father who just loved his son.”

Perhaps the real reason to appreciate Jim Broadbent is best expressed by Tucker, who says, “he can take you on a journey with a character you think is quite difficult and yet you still end up loving him.”

Ah, I think my question was just answered.

>> Read Metro's review on When Did You Last See Your Father?