Remember The Last Right when it came out in December? No, me neither, and its release was so limited very few people will have actually seen it. Its Christmas setting made it a natural for an end of year release yet its arrival on digital this week is timed with even more accuracy, even though it probably wasn’t intentional. Because this little piece of Irish whimsy is exactly what we need in these uncertain times.
All the more surprising for a film that’s essentially a road trip about delivering a coffin to a funeral. Daniel (The Haunting Of Hill House’s Michiel Huisman) is on his way to his own mother’s funeral when he meets Padraig (Father Ted’s Jim Norton). When the old man dies suddenly, Daniel finds himself apparently responsible for dealing with everything and, as he knows Padraig was on his way to his brother’s funeral, he decides that he’ll transport the coffin to the ceremony, hundreds of miles away in Northern Ireland. For company, he has his autistic teenage son, Louis (Samuel Bottomley) and Mary (Niamh Algar, recently in Calm With Horses), who has cadged a lift for her own reasons.
What ensues is a journey for all of them, not just of the physical variety, but one where secrets are uncovered, true feelings revealed and lessons learnt. It’s not a film that sets out to do anything radically new or different, but tells its story with warmth, charm and no little humour. There are unexpectedly laugh-out-loud moments, ironically from the aspect of the story that works the least well – the three become wanted by the police, which means they have the Garda in hot pursuit for most of their drive, headed by crusty inspector Crowley (Colm Meaney). It feels like this chase element has been bolted on to add more interest but, in truth, it’s unnecessary: there’s more than enough in the characters, their relationships and their individual stories to hold our interest.
There’s a hole or two in the narrative, as well as times when it all seems just a little too convenient and predictable, but the beguiling nature of this undemanding piece means you’re quite content to go along for the ride. It benefits from a solid cast, with Algar showing she’s equally at home with light comedy as she is with her more usual gritty choice of role. And Samuel Bottomley is impressively convincing as Louis, an autistic but more worldly wise than anybody expects. At one point Algar’s Mary likens Daniel and Louis to the brothers in Rain Man but, in truth, this is a very different proposition – and Louis is quick to explain why.
What makes The Last Right so in tune with the current mood is its reassuring conviction that trying circumstances bring out the best in people and that everything will be fine in the end. That gentle humour and soothing tone is probably exactly what we need at the moment and, while the film most definitely has its flaws, its heart is in the right place, with all the warmth and comfort of an Irish hot toddy.
Comedy, Drama | Cert: 15 | Entertainment One | Digital, 30 March 2020 | Dir. Aoife Crehan | Michiel Huisman, Niamh Algar, Samuel Bottomley, Colm Meaney, Brian Cox, Jim Norton.