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  Last Bus, The Tickets, Please
Year: 2021
Director: Gillies MacKinnon
Stars: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Grace Calder, Marnie Baxter, Saskia Ashdown, Celyn Jones, Brian Pettifer, Colin McCredie, Iain Robertson, Kevin Mains, Garry Sweeney, Anne Kidd, Susannah Laing, Olivia Fenton, Matt Costello, Natalie Mitson, Ben Ewing
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tom (Timothy Spall) moved to John O'Groats many decades ago with his wife Mary (Phyllis Logan), right up on the tip of the Scottish mainland, having previously lived in Land's End in Cornwall, at the geographical other end of Britain, and they had lived out their lives in quiet contemplation. But now Mary is no longer with us, and solely lives on in Tom's memories, which is part of the reason he decides he has a mission to fulfil, a journey back to the Cornish coast that he will undertake by the bus routes. Not a coach down the motorways, but the smaller routes that he can negotiate with the assistance of his bus pass, one he gets for being a pensioner. It may take a bit longer, but he believes it will be worth it because of the promise he made to Mary...

Think "elderly man on an eccentric road trip" and the first movie that springs to mind may well be David Lynch's The Straight Story, and there were similarities to that here, a British spin on much the same material, sans the sit-on lawnmower Richard Farnsworth took on that excursion. Also, that film was based on a true story, and you had the impression this one only wished it was, as no matter how gritty and realistic director Gillies MacKinnon tried to make it, the essential fairy tale quality of the material was hard to shake. Just look at the premise: Tom lived in Land's End then moved to John O'Groats?! You do find out why, but it's pretty hard to believe that he and Mary just wouldn't have moved to somewhere else in Cornwall. Or if they were living dangerously, to neighbouring Devon.

But then we wouldn't have a film, and that high concept would have gone to waste. Spall had nothing left to prove as an actor, he was an excellent performer generally and one of the reliables in the British industry, yet here, cast as a far older man, he seemed to be laying it on a bit thick, all right, Tom is no spring chicken, but he was too reminiscent of Unlucky Alf from The Fast Show (with a South Western accent) in light of the setbacks and actual physical harm the poor old bloke came to. We were offered flashbacks throughout to fill in his backstory, but they were nothing that could not have been related at the beginning in a few lines of dialogue without much difference to the drama or how it unfolded. The scenery was striking, but the production had not been very fortunate with the weather, making Britain appear unwelcoming and dreich.

But really, the main problem with The Last Bus is that you didn't buy it. Obviously Tom is not going to keel over halfway through the film (which was already pretty short) so they had to fill out the running time somehow, therefore opted for an "all of human life is here" approach that had him encounter what was meant to be a representative cross section of British society. That included schoolkids, a hen party, a woman in a burqa and accompanying racist for Tom to stand up to, an officious bus conductor, Ukrainian builders, a thieving junkie, and more, plus a selection of Good Samaritans to make you feel a bit better about being British. Yet the script was all too visible throughout: you could hear the author's voice and point of view speaking through every character, and it felt awfully contrived. That writer was Joe Ainsworth, by no means inexperienced having many years of experience writing for soaps and serialised television, but while his motives were laudable, you were unconvinced by the results, and the ending was too well-telegraphed. It was a hard film to hate, but you might not get too enthusiastic about it either. Music by Nick Lloyd Webber.

[THE LAST BUS will be released in over 150 cinemas nationwide from Friday 27th August 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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