Directed by Fred Schepisi.
Running Time: 110 mins
Last Orders is, literally, about a dying breed. Four war-time friends have drunk at the same pub for forty years. When Jack Dodds (Caine), the defacto leader of the quartet and local butcher, dies he leaves instructions for his wife Amy (Mirren) and his mates Lenny (David Hemmings), Vic (Tom Courtenay) and Ray (Hoskins) to take his ashes to beach and scatter them into the sea. His wife can't do it, so she delegates her son Vince (Ray Winstone) to join his father's mates on the journey.
As they make their trip through the beautiful English countryside, they visit several pubs get into all manner of scraps and several very funny mishaps, and are flooded with memories of their life with Jack and one another. Jack's death is the catalyst for everyone in this circle to face up to memories they want to scatter with Jack's ashes. It's not so easy.
Based on Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel, Last Orders is a multi-layered film that lays bare one secret after another. Vince got Lenny's daughter pregnant and then dumped her. Ray has always been in love with Amy. Jack has a mentally disabled daughter he wouldn't visit and more besides.
Australian director Fred Schepisi does a wonderful job galvanising this extraordinary array of British talent into a fine ensemble piece. It would have been easy for the emotional material here to wallow in sentimentality, but Schepisi plays up the self-mocking, caustic English humour, and the anger it often disguises, to allow us to see frail, ordinary people who have been unable to tell the truth to each other for years.
All the performances are enjoyable, especially Hoskins, but Helen Mirren's accent doesn't quite convince us of her working class credentials. It's a small detail in comparison to the excellent pace, terrific locations and photography. The costume and make-up department do an excellent job in moving through every era from the forties to the nineties.
Last Orders is a warm and generous film with serious things to say about just how irregular the Pub's regulars can be, and that their pints are not the only bitterness they taste each day.
Richard Leonard SJ