SOMETIMES it pays to focus on the foreground and not the background.

Jason Connery has made a Scottish period drama with golf as a theme, he says, but do not mistake Tommy's Honour for a “golf film”. The actor and director, 53, says Tommy's Honour, his fifth film at the helm and opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival with its world premiere next week, is much more than conventional sports movie. "This is a father-son love story, but also a man and wife love story. And it is also a Shakespearian tragedy."

Set in Scotland in the 19th century, the story circles around the historical Scottish figures of Old Tom Morris (born 1821) and his son, Tommy (born 1851). They play golf extremely well, are famous for it in their time and beyond, and the links and courses of Victorian Scotland are very much the backdrop to the tale. But Tommy’s Honour is not a documentary. The tensions in the movie, shot and made in Scotland, hinge more on relationships than championships, and on the familial, societal and class distinctions Connery feels still have echoes today.

The director, speaking from Los Angeles, says that he was surprised that the story of the two men, and their crucial relationships with wives and lovers, had not been dramatised before. Written by Pamela Marin and Kevin Cook, the script focusses on the personal as much as the professional.

He says: “I couldn't believe it had not been told. It's a particularly extraordinary and also tragic story. I said to Jim Kreutzer [producer]: 'I love this story, and I'd love to tell it - but you know it's not a golf story, right?' There was quite a long pause."

Connery adds: "For me, the thing that jumps out, is how universal the story is – a man coming into the world and just grabbing it by the scruff of the neck."

The movie, shot in East Lothian and Fife, opens in 1866 when Tommy, played by a charismatic young actor Jack Lowden, and his father, played by Peter Mullan, are former and future legends of the game. Both won the Open Championship multiple times and revolutionised golf. But it is young Tommy’s short and dramatic life, and the changes he wrought to the game, and those he experienced in a rapidly changing society, that are the heart of the movie, Connery says.

Young Tommy, while a superstar on the links, was living in a very different society from professional golfers today.

Connery says he was excited about theme of "handing down of the baton" but also the dramatic possibilities of "the way that society in those days asked you to behave, and the questions asked by the new generation: 'Why does it have to be this way?' So I got very excited about that, and that is how the journey began. Almost five years ago."

There are key roles in the movie for Ophelia Lovibond (from W1A and Guardians of the Galaxy) as Meg Drinnen and Sam Neill as Alexander Boothby, a member of the old guard challenged by Tommy's success and new ideas.

Connery said he was fascinated by the characters and their time. He says: "Old Tom was head grounds keeper at St Andrews for 50 years and was never allowed into the clubhouse. They have a plaque on the outside, but he was never allowed inside.

"Tom's marriage, although I am sure he loved his wife, was very much an economic decision: you take care of children while I work. Tommy's on the other hand, was about partnership. I am not saying he was modern to the point where we are now, but Tommy would question everything, he wouldn't just sit by the status quo."

Tommy, in a remarkable feat in any sport, won four championships in a row, the first at the age of 17.

Connery adds: "The extraordinary thing is that every single professional athlete, certainly the golfers anyway, owe the fact they get paid millions and millions – because they get a purse that is a representation of how well they do – to Tommy.

"It was Tommy that asked: 'Why are we only getting the stipend that they pay us?'"

"The thing about the film is that it is not a documentation. You have to ride a line between historical accuracy and dramatic strength. So there are things in the film that are not documentary, but they are very effective dramatically, for building the tension with the characters, so that the audience will be able to go along for the ride with them."

Connery has other movie projects in development, and may reveal a new one next week. And he says he would love to shoot in Scotland again.

"The crew was fantastic. And the extras in this film – there are a lot of them because of the crowd scenes – were so into the film. I said to them: ‘You guys punctuate this film, you represent the audience in a way, and I don’t want you to feel like you have to stand there and applaud, I want you to be viscerally involved. I want you smoking and gambling and drinking and fighting, I want singing, clapping and cheering’. And these extras all got into it so much. When you watch the film in the background, if you watch the crowd, they are all so there, it was fantastic to watch."

Scotland, of course, is intimate ground for Connery. He has a cottage in Scotland, he was educated at Gordonstoun, and spent a lot of time watching his father, Sir Sean, playing pro-celebrity golf on green swathes of the nation’s countryside.

Connery has agreed there is a need for a major film studio complex in Scotland, but the shoot for Tommy’s Honour was blessed by the mercurial Scottish weather. Even on the day which involved shooting a ‘snow scene’ (with fake snow, in the middle of August), a helpful haar rolled in and made the sky an appropriate sheet of white.

He says: “We literally had one day when it was raining. We just blasted the light and Gary Shaw, the director of photography, was a bit of magician.”

The set, he says, was one that was a "lovely space to be." And he says he had wanted to work with Peter Mullan from the start.

"For me he was, or is, Old Tom," he says. "And I saw Jack and I think he has something that you cannot really teach, which is this innate sense of truth in things, and a kind of energy that bounces off the screen. There is a couple of humdinger scenes, well more than a couple, and they really enjoy each other. It was lovely to be on set with them. Sam Neill came in and was great. Having been an actor, for many years, I feel I know how to talk to actors, and I feel I know how to create a space for them to feel safe and to play. That is what they did."

On opening the film festival, he says it was something of a dream come true.

"We made an effort to get Mark [Adams, director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival] in to see the film, and we just hoped that we could show our film there. So when they called us and said ‘actually we want you to open the film festival...' I don’t know that people realize how fantastic that is for me, personally. It is about as good as it could ever have got."

The fact, also, that the film is about the son of a famous man has extra resonance for Connery. The son of perhaps one of the most famous Scots of the last 100 years, could appreciate one of the core themes of the story on a personal level.

"Absolutely. I think initially I wasn’t aware of that as I was when I started to delve into the story more, and they started to come to life.

"I was aware, reading the book, that Tommy’s father was highly respected and, in Scotland and with other golfers, even famous. "And then Tommy, his son, is staking his claim, and became for this brief period, incredibly successful and revered but in a very different way to his father. Of course that has resonance for me."

Tommy’s Honour is the Opening Night Gala film of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016 on Wednesday.