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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 20:19 GMT
Last orders brings welcome refreshment
Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine and Ray Winstone
A strong cast spans three decades
By the BBC's Neil Smith.

Last Orders - based on Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel - is loaded with familiar faces.

Interestingly, it took an outsider - Schepisi is Australian - to bring this quintessentially English tale to the screen.

Three generations of British actors gather for this touching road movie about four friends who come together to give a fifth a proper send-off.

David Hemmings and Tom Courtenay
Hemmings is miscast as the belligerent Lenny
From the 60s we have Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay and David Hemmings, who in films like Alfie, Billy Liar and Blow-Up redefined how the British working class was depicted on screen.

From the 70s come Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren, together for the first time since The Long Good Friday. And bringing things bang up to date is Ray Winstone, acquitting himself admirably in such seasoned company.

Nostalgia plays a major role in this melancholy story, in which lost love, missed chances and rueful regret are constant thorns in the protagonists' sides.

On a wider scale, the film also touches on those brave souls who fell in World War II and those innocent ones killed in the Blitz.

But if this all sounds too mawkish for words, have no fear. This cockney saga also comes equipped with cheery sing-alongs, adolescent romance and some agreeably ribald wit.

Caine, seen only in flashback, plays Jack Dodds, an East End butcher who is already dead when the movie begins.

Disoriented

The film follows Jack's best friend Ray, his son Vince, undertaker Vic and boxer-turned-boozer Lenny as they drive to Margate to scatter Jack's ashes.

Meanwhile, Jack's widow Amy goes to see her retarded daughter June, who has spent her life in a home and whose tragic handicap drove a wedge between her parents.

Schepisi, who also wrote the script, is perhaps too faithful to Swift's novel, resulting in a film whose constant jumps back and forth in time may leave some audiences disoriented.

Hemmings, meanwhile, is miscast as the belligerent Lenny, his florid acting style out of sync with Hoskins's and Courtenay's more subtle contributions.

But Last Orders is still a moving, engrossing work that makes a refreshing change from the glut of ultraviolent crime capers that have swamped the British film industry of late.

Last Orders on general release from Friday 11 January.

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