Director: Gillies MacKinnon
Starring: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Natalie Mitson and Ben Ewing
Run time: 1h 26min
As someone that’s travelled from London to Penzance several times by planes, trains and automobiles, one journey stands out; the 10-hour nightmare that was on the Megabus. Traffic jams, broken air conditioning and a blocked toilet all combined to make that trip as much fun as I’m sure it sounds.
Imagine then taking a bus from Britain’s most north-eastern point, Scotland’s John o’ Groats, to Cornwall’s Lands’ End, using just your free bus pass to take you the 838 miles. No thanks.
But that’s exactly what elderly Tom (Timothy Spall) is doing. He’s attempting to fulfil a promise that he made to his late wife (Phyllis Logan). When they were younger, the pair made the journey in reverse and Tom plans to recreate that trip, including using the exact same route and overnight stops. On his trek, he meets all sorts of colourful characters including an aspiring musical theatre actor, drunken racists and, happily, good Samaritans. It’s a multicultural mystery to Tom and he’s thrown off course as he adjusts to circumstances beyond his control. Unbeknownst to him, Tom becomes an Internet sensation as his journey is documented on social media by his fellow passengers using #bushero.
Timothy Spall will break your heart with his perfectly judged physical performance. Aided by some thoroughly convincing make-up (bravo, Christine Cant), his aged and fragile body is home to a fierce determination, driving him onwards to his goal. It makes for uncomfortable viewing at times and really is a magnificent showing. However, he’s let down by an ensemble cast that are not up to his high standard and a script that lacks authenticity when these unusual situations occur. During one bus scene where an obnoxious yob is verbally abusing a Muslim passenger, the dialogue needed the energy and realism of improvisation. Unfortunately, the dramatic potential isn’t fulfilled.
However, there are many poignant moments. We see glimpses of Tom’s past and his reason for the journey through cleverly interweaved flashbacks featuring some lovely directorial choices by Gillies MacKinnon. Tom becomes the literal shoulder to cry on for a distressed teenager and something as simple as being booked into the wrong room at a B&B pulls at the heartstrings, but the emotional payoff that is constantly teased remains frustratingly out of reach.
Charmingly intriguing and a stellar turn from Timothy Spall at its heart, The Last Bus doesn’t warrant a first-class ticket, but it’s a journey worth making.
The Last Bus motors into UK cinemas from Friday 27th August