Last Orders (15)

Review by Simon Bell

FOUR old geezers in tweed meet for a pint and a large scotch before setting off to Margate with an urn full of ashes. Not the most electrifying of premises.

And yet to miss 'Last Orders' would be to forgo a genuine experience of life-affirming dimension.

Borne out of Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel about a small clique of men honouring their friend's strange dying wish, the film opens in the Coach & Horses with the associates reluctantly raising a final glass to lifelong companion Jack. Bracing themselves for their car journey to the Kent coast, the mood is quieter than that of the many boisterous, beer-fuelled scenes of yesteryear.

What unfolds in the following 100 celluloid minutes is a mystery road trip/pub crawl, the goal of which is to scatter Jack's ashes into the sea. But why did he request such a final resting place? Why did his wife Amy decide to not take the trip? And will the tensions between the comrades finally reach breaking point now that the Kingpin is dead? All is revealed in one final stunning scene played against a rain-lashed and wind-whipped backdrop of dowdy amusement arcades.

From British ex-pat Fred Schepisi (the eclectic director of "Six Degrees of Separation", "Roxanne" and "A Cry in the Dark"), "Last Orders" boasts some of the best of two or, maybe, three generations of UK talent: Michael Caine as local butcher Jack; Bob Hoskins as best buddy Raysie; Helen Mirren as long-suffering wife Amy; and David Hemmings, Tom Courtenay and Ray Winstone as the remaining cronies… Not to mention the upcoming ingenuity in the form of JJ Feild (young Caine), Anatol Yusef (young Hoskins) and Kelly Reilly (young Mirren).

The wealth of acting prowess is at first a little overwhelming for such a small story, contained as it is within the setting of a Bermondsey pub, the A2 and Margate Pier.

But by the end, not a single performance has hit a false note and the film has achieved all it set out to do: To engage both the heart and mind in a moving tribute to friendship, life in death and the working class.