The Last Bus (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Gillies MacKinnon, UK/United Arab Emirates, 2021, 86 mins,

Cast:  Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Natalie Mitson, Ben Ewing

Review by Carol Allen

It’s not often an actor in his sixties is asked to “age up” for a role but in The Last Bus Timothy Spall, in real life a strong and healthy sixty four year old, convincingly plays Tom, a man who has to be in his eighties or even nineties, I calculate, from the fact that we learn the character joined the army in World War II, when he was fifteen years old.

Tom is going on a pilgrimage, carrying the ashes of his recently deceased wife Mary (Phyllis Logan) from their home in Scotland to Land’s End, where they first met. 

And being like most pensioners not exactly wealthy, he aims to do the journey by bus using his elders’ free bus pass. 

In the course of his journey Tom touches the lives of a number of people, young and not so young, some kind and others not always so, many of whom capture these encounters on their mobile phones.  By the end of his journey Tom has become something of a social media legend.  He also discovers that a Scottish elders’ bus pass doesn’t work in England (and vice versa.)

Spall gives a terrific performance:  his face set in sour, sad lines, then suddenly bursting into such a sweet, kindly smile.  He also has a droll sense of humour.  When asked by a teenager how old he is, he replies dryly “Very”.

As the journey progresses, exhausted by his experiences, Tom becomes increasingly frail.   Towards the end when the camera lingers on his feet as he’s going down steps or when he is teetering around dangerously on the harbour wall in Cornwall, you worry he is going to fall and break something.

 What makes the film particularly poignant are the scenes of Tom and Mary in the past, both together in their older years and in the fifties, the days of their youth, where they are played by Natalie Mitson and Ben Ewing, as older Tom remembers the joy of their early love and the tragedy that haunted the rest of their lives is gradually revealed to us.  

With a subject like this the film could have been very sentimental but it avoids that pitfall.   It is touching and ultimately very moving, but in a rather restrained and very British way, under the skilful direction of Gillies MacKinnon and with a brilliant performance from Spall.