A jolly romp through the world of mass transit, this is not. The Last Bus, brought to us by Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon, is a work containing an almost overwhelming sense of emotional poignancy. The sheer weight of the drama may end up limiting its appeal on a broader scale. However, for those willing to spend the money on the requisite amount of Kleenex to get through it, there’s no denying this is a heart-warming film bolstered by a marvelous performance from the legendary Timothy Spall.
Other than flashbacks that incrementally fill in plot holes, The Last Bus exclusively follows Tom (Spall), a recent widower on a mission to ride an extensive series of bus connections from Northern Scotland to Land’s End, a tourist enclave on the southwestern tip of England. The trip is later revealed to be a nostalgic pilgrimage of sorts in which Tom will visit a selection of diners and B&Bs that harbor powerful memories of his former life with his late wife Mary (Phyllis Logan).
Spall, an accomplished actor, perhaps best known for his work with master filmmaker Mike Leigh, is the highlight of the film, and his role as Tom is just the latest in a career filled with landmark performances. Tom grunts his way through the entirety of Great Britain inside a body that looks to be on the cusp of breaking apart at its seams. While men of his generation may have strived to embody the Churchillian stiff upper lip, Spall’s nuanced performance ultimately reveals a man whose love for his wife was his defining quality.
“…Tom, a recent widower on a mission to ride an extensive series of bus connections…”
The road movie structure of The Last Bus allows Tom to meet a wide swath of British citizens along the route, including comically neurotic bus drivers, unruly passengers, and an assortment of intoxicated Brits. These sequences provide an opportunity for MacKinnon to contrast Tom’s status as an old-fashioned pensioner with that of modern British society that he’s been disconnected from due to his extended isolation in the nether regions of Scotland. We end up realizing, though, that love is the unifying force between generations, and thanks to a hashtag started by a fellow passenger, he becomes a minor celebrity as his quest becomes viral.
The careful withholding of plot details doesn’t save the proceedings from feeling a tad slight, but it does end up being essential to help what would otherwise could have been too straightforward a narrative. One also wishes MacKinnon had added some additional levity at crucial points, as there’s just no escaping the profound sadness once we learn the true nature of his mission. This tonal balancing would have provided additional profundity to the more somber moments.
Is the fare for The Last Bus worth it? Spall’s performance ensures that the answer is a resounding yes! But, there is a caveat: viewers certainly shouldn’t expect a ride filled with joy and laughter. However, what they can expect is a touching film that will remind all of us to embrace the ones we love as often as we can.
"…Spall's nuanced performance ultimately reveals a man whose love for his wife was his defining quality."