Try as I might, I couldn’t make friends with this weirdly unreal and sentimental Britmovie in the last-journey-with-someone’s-ashes genre. But it is certainly acted with commitment and integrity by Timothy Spall, who plays an old, sick widower courageously making his peace with the past.
Spall is Tom, a retired engineer who lives in John o’Groats in the northerly tip of Scotland; he and his late wife, Mary – a decent cameo for Phyllis Logan – once lived as a young married couple in Land’s End (that is: England’s most south-westerly point) but came to settle up there because they wanted to put as much geographical and emotional distance as possible between them and an awful tragedy that struck them in the first year of their marriage. (Young Mary and Tom are played in sepia-ish flashback by Natalie Mitson and Ben Ewing.) After Mary’s death, Tom takes it into his head to make an epic journey back down through Britain to Land’s End, using only local bus routes on his free bus pass, like Forrest Gump’s British grandpa.
It is possible that screenwriter Joe Ainsworth was inspired by news stories about audacious, travel-hungry retirees in England doing this when the rules first changed to allow it. The movie also seems to be implying that Tom is in fact retracing the couple’s original route from memory, and even staying in the same B&Bs – although without some serious internet research this would be very difficult and setting up advance overnight stays for such a quest would itself be quite a serious online job for anyone, never mind our very elderly hero.
Inevitably, wise Tom has heartwarming encounters with people all over the country. He confronts a racist on one of the buses, and there’s a cartoonishly nasty English bus official who tells Tom his Scottish bus pass won’t work south of the border – but all of these scenes seem contrived and two-dimensional, and the subplot about Tom becoming a viral social-media celebrity is itself another cliche. It’s decently intended but the reality gap is too wide.
• The Last Bus is released on 27 August in cinemas.
• This article was amended on 30 August 2021. An earlier version incorrectly described Land’s End as England’s most southerly, rather than south-westerly, point.