The Last Bus
Gillies MacKinnon‘s latest feature, The Last Bus, is an endearing journey through space and time. The road movie stars Timothy Spall as a retired widower who undertakes a personal quest that ends up attracting the attention and concern of countless strangers.
Tom Harper (Spall) decides to travel from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall exclusively via bus. The reason for undertaking this trip is revealed gradually in flashbacks that see a young Tom and his wife Mary abruptly leave their Cornish hometown, decades earlier, and settle in the farthermost point on the British mainland, in Scotland. They lead a quiet life together until Mary passes away. Tom sets himself a mission to return home with Mary’s remains and, taking advantage of the fact that he is entitled to use public transport for free, he meticulously plans a long southbound bus route. As he takes one bus after the other across the country, he gets a glimpse of Britain’s many faces through the people he meets.
The film weaves the Harpers’ love story, mostly made of memories of bygone times, with snapshots of present-day life. Tom encounters partygoers, petty thieves, good Samaritans and friendly youngsters. Some people’s interactions with him seem to have a patronising undertone and, for the most part, there is the sense of a world moving too fast and too superficially. Unbeknownst to him, the pensioner becomes a social media star by the end of his journey, but there is a general feeling that his personal story remains buried under the assumptions that are made about his past, about his condition as an elderly person, and about his present quest.
The storyline is sweet and wholesome without being overly sentimental, and it holds much potential for tracing a rich social portrait tying past and present times. Unfortunately it does not really take off to the point that the scenarios created feel realistic. It sometimes seems as if the production is mechanically moving through a list of social pictures representative of modern British society. In addition, Tom’s birthplace and his Scottish home do not inform his identity as much as one would expect. The decision to move from one end of the country to the other appears to take place purely to then give Tom’s journey a more epic scope.
Ultimately, the film works especially thanks to Timothy Spall who holds up every scene with great presence and embodies his character, who is considerably older than him, credibly and charmingly.
The Last Bus is released nationwide on 27th August 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Last Bus here: