Last Orders (15)
A BUTCHER dies in a London backwater and, in accordance with his dying wishes, his son and three closest pals take off on a trip to Margate to scatter his ashes in the sea.
Hardly the makings of world class cinema, you might suppose, yet this warm and poignant adaptation of Graham Swift’s Booker Prize-winning novel – part road trip, part evocation of small-town history – is perfectly played by a 24-carat cast that includes three Sixties cinema icons.
Michael Caine, appearing in flashback as butcher Jack Dodds, heads of the ensemble in this intimate drama of extraordinary ordinary folk, weaving together the lives, loves, secrets and heartache of a group of Londoners in post-war Britain.
He is joined by Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings and Bob Hoskins as his loyal mates, Helen Mirren as silently suffering wife Amy and Ray Winstone (rapidly inheriting Caine’s mantle as England’s resident supercool Cockney movie geezer) as Jack’s son.
In the hands of Fred Schepisi Last Orders presents itself as both a lonely pilgrimage for a lost pal while paying tribute to loyalty, family ties and friendship. The acting is universally excellent with Caine, receiving top billing as the ghostly Jack, leading from the back.
Yet there also are delightful performances from Courtenay (playing a funeral director in a nod to his classic 1960s breakthrough role in Billy Liar), Hemmings and Hoskins, while Winstone revels in playing the son of the sarf Landanner who paved the way for actors like him and Hoskins.
The film’s triumph is in its portrayal of the extraordinary lives lived by hitherto ordinary people. There is lust, love and infidelity. Secrets and lies. Heartbreak and recriminations.
As the sad quartet travels the long road to Margate each man reflects on his relationship with Jack, their experiences together as young conscripts in Korea, their divergent paths as adults and the friendship that drew them close as they matured through middle age into old age.
More than anything else Last Orders shows how people are shaped by events – those they create, and those they are powerless to alter or resist – and how they live with the cards they are dealt.
Perhaps the most powerful scenes – certainly the warmest – are those that take place between bachelor Ray (Hoskins) and Jack’s careworn widow Amy (Mirren). So much is unsaid, but the emotions on display provide signposts to the hearts of both.
Not a classic, but not far from it either, Last Orders is a great British movie with a cast that delivers performances bordering on genius. And you can’t say that very often these days.