The Last Bus review – a cliche-packed vehicle for Timothy Spall

A widower takes a nostalgic journey from John o’Groats to Land’s End using his free bus pass in a well-acted but overly sentimental film

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.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Stanley: A Man of Variety review – Timothy Spall communes with the comedy greats
In this macabre one-man drama, Spall is marvellous as a psychiatric patient who brings to life a string of showbiz icons

Peter Bradshaw

15, Jun, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Timothy Spall: ‘the brutal, sinister world of my comedy heroes’
The actor’s new film – Stanley, A Man of Variety – echoes David Lynch and a dark Ealing classic. Here he tells why he chose to re-create the giants of music hall as ‘English noir’

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

26, May, 2018 @1:00 PM

Article image
Finding Your Feet review – starry cast save creaky golden-years Britcom
Imelda Staunton and Celia Imrie play sisters forced to live under the same roof in a feelgood but frustrating comedy

Peter Bradshaw

22, Feb, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Last Bus review – going nowhere fast with Timothy Spall
Spall plays a widower taking his wife’s ashes the length of Britain by bus in this lumbering drama

Simran Hans

29, Aug, 2021 @11:30 AM

Article image
Timothy Spall: 'The feeling of doing it wrong gets bigger and bigger'
He is one of Britain’s favourite actors. This year, he’s been on stage in The Caretaker and is set to star in films as Ian Paisley and Holocaust denier David Irving. So why is Timothy Spall so full of doubt?

Catherine Shoard

21, Jun, 2016 @6:34 PM

Article image
Mr Turner review – Timothy Spall and Mike Leigh command the screen | Peter Bradshaw’s film of the week
This confident portrait of the great artists hits its stride straight away, with pin-sharp direction and performances, writes Peter Bradshaw

Peter Bradshaw

30, Oct, 2014 @3:49 PM

Article image
Early Man review – back-of-the-net triumph from Aardman
Nick Park’s hilarious family animation pitches the stone age against the bronze age in a prehistoric football fantasy

Peter Bradshaw

26, Jan, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
The Party review – conniptions amid the canapés in an observant real-time farce
Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a shadow cabinet member hosting one of those dos at which shock revelation follows shock revelation, in Sally Potter’s short, smart comedy

Peter Bradshaw

13, Feb, 2017 @10:01 PM

Article image
Mrs Lowry and Son review – Redgrave and Spall paint a delicate portrait
Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall steal the show in this low-key tale of the great artist finding success while caring for his curmudgeonly mother

Peter Bradshaw

28, Aug, 2019 @12:15 PM

Article image
Last Call review – bad news, good booze
Jeremy Piven plays a prodigal son aiming to build a casino in his old neighbourhood in this flat-footed ode to bar-room wisdom

Phil Hoad

29, Mar, 2021 @9:00 AM