Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
"The film is based on the 1996 Booker prize-winning novel by Graham Swift, an intricate patchwork of national history and personal remembrance couched in the gruff demotic of working-class south Londoners. It’s primarily a ‘voice’ book, not the sort of thing film generally has much use for, yet director Fred Schepisi has not merely written a decent adaptation, he has also found the key to what might have been an awkward translation. The film, a muted tribute to a certain type of Englishness, is, not coincidentally, a glory of English casting; there aren’t ‘star turns’ in Last Orders, just ensemble acting of tremendous subtlety and restraint…
The story concerns various journeys, and opens, appropriately enough, in a pub called The Coach and Horses. Ray, Vic, and Lenny have gathered for a pint prior to fulfilling the last request of their late friend Jack – to have his ashes scattered off Margate pier. Their driver is Jack’s son Vince; a used car-dealer with a bit more juice in his tank than the three oldsters, though by no means as cockily self-assured as he’d like to appear. Off they go in a gleaming Mercedes borrowed for the day from Vince’s showroom, with an urn of ashes and some private ghosts of their own to lay to rest.
The central strut of the narrative is the relationship between Ray and Jack’s wife Amy, who once had a brief affair back in the Sixties… Ray and Vic are growing old gracefully; Lenny, however, who failed to make the grade as a boxer, can’t help thinking he’s still good for a fight, and finally needles Vince into responding… Schepisi’s feel for the material is remarkably assured, and its elegiac mood is well-suited to the winter season. Perhaps too well-suited: I’m not sure that many filmgoers under the age of 25 will be eagerly awaiting a tale of baffled hopes among people old enough to be their grandparents… Yet its contemplation of friendship, love and self-sacrifice should find an audience, and indeed deserves one; the cinema of understatement and nuance has been paid a handsome due. Last Orders isn’t grim; rather, it takes a melancholy view of human transience, and suggests a universal desire for the same thing Ray and Vic and Lenny want, intoned at the end of every night, in every pub: Time, please." — Anthony Quinn, The Independent