The Last Bus
12 Aug 2021
Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan
The British “Road Trip” movie is a fairly neglected genre, for obvious reasons. Unless you are on a Vespa to Brighton or Tom Hardy on the M6, it’s unlikely that a trip across the UK is going to be interesting (or long) enough. Joe Ainsworth’s tale of an elderly man travelling the longest route possible is sentimental but heartfelt viewing.
Timothy Spall plays Tom, a recent widower living in John o' Groats who is planning one hell of a bus trip - and without a Megabus or National Express in sight. His plan is to travel to Land’s End in Cornwall using local buses, on an expedition that will see him mix it up with all walks of life. Well, those that take the bus.
Relying on the kindness of strangers is a well-worn trope, and director Gillies MacKinnon uses it like a freedom pass with The Last Bus. Everyone Tom bumps into seems to have the potential to be a friend for life or an instant foe, and his ailing health or pitiful funds is almost instantly solved by a stranger’s charity. Regular commuters will be asked to suspend their disbelief at the social interaction Tom is able to garner from the bus stops he stands at. Not a silent one among them.
Fortunately, Spall’s engrossing portrayal clocks up the emotional miles as we witness through flashbacks the life he had with his wife (Phylis Logan). His astonishing range is given a wide berth, MacKinnon knowing this is his ace in the hole, and the actor manages to depict the grit and frailty of the central character with deft skill. The cast as a whole are silhouette passengers on the screen for brief interactions and narrative convenience.
It’s unglamorous and misty-eyed, with enough coats of slapped on poignancy to paint, well a bus. A sombre score gets punctuated with vibrant acoustic tunes to provide the essential travelling montages, direct from the road trip handbook. But this is a lovingly crafted entry into the UK road trip movie genre that, at the very least, should be an inspiration to filmmakers that a trip down the M4 corridor could be the next On The Road. Or at least Dumb and Dumber To.