The Last Bus

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Last Bus
dir Gillies MacKinnon
scr Joe Ainsworth
prd Sol Papadopoulos, Roy Boulter
with Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Ben Ewing, Natalie Mitson, Grace Calder, Celyn Jones, Brian Pettifer, Colin McCredie, Garry Sweeney, Kevin Mains, Iain Robertson, Marnie Baxter
release UK 27.Aug.21
21/UK 1h26

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With a wonderfully light touch, director Gillies MacKinnon creates a hopeful film out of a true story that that could easily have become maudlin. Anchored by the gifted Timothy Spall, the film spins a wistful but emotionally resonant tale, infusing earthy wit into even some heart-stopping moments. Beautifully shot and edited, it's also a lovely travelogue that runs the complete length of Great Britain, both geographically and culturally.
After a long life in John O'Groats at the top of Scotland, Tom (Spall) painstakingly plots a route home to Land's End at the bottom of Cornwall. He recalls making the reverse trip decades earlier with his wife Mary (Logan), as a young couple (then Ewing and Mitson) in need of a new start as far away as they could get. Today, Tom is travelling on public busses using his free old-age pass, so there are obstacles along the way. And he has no idea that he's gathering a social media following along the way.
A gentle tone underscores much darker story elements, allowing happiness and sadness to mingle together, a reminder that tragedies are a part of everybody's life. As the narrative shifts around in Tom's memory, from his early marriage to later years with Mary, there's just enough wit woven in to make scenes feel authentic. People throughout the film demonstrate a sly sense of humour, and anecdotes emerge naturally in conversations to fill in details.

Playing above his age, Spall deftly combines steeliness and fragility as the intrepid Tom refuses to give up on his journey even amid momentous setbacks. In his face we can see his whole life, from being a stretcher bearer as a teen in the war to his tenderness toward Mary in pivotal moments to the way he brightens up around children. Aside from the terrific Logan, Ewing and Mitson, side characters are essentially only around briefly before Tom moves on to the next encounter. And each adds their own little kick.

Telling moments are strategically placed throughout the story, as Tom's meticulous schedule is compromised and strangers come to his rescue. Throughout his journey, he engages with people he meets, and some repay him with cruelty. But even in his encounters with racists or thieves, he maintains his sense of determination and decency. And he never quite sees why he's becoming a national hero in the process. It's a rare film that focusses on kindness rather than the darker side of humanity. And it's moving without ever being sentimental.

cert 12 themes, language, violence, sexuality 30.Jun.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall