Written and directed by Julian Kemp, Last Train To Christmas is an enjoyable way to update A Christmas Carol. It mixes things up slightly by setting the tale on a train. And there’s the additional peril of the butterfly effect, as our lead character figures out that moving to the forward carriages takes him into his future while moving back takes him into his past.
Michael Sheen stars as Tony Towers, a character best described as a cross between Peter Stringfellow and Pete Waterman. About to open a number of extra new clubs, and about to celebrate his engagement to Sue (Nathalie Emmanuel). He has a strained relation with his brother, Roger (Cary Elwes), but is about to realise that it might make sense to listen to his words of caution, especially when he moves into his future and realises that his club empire is doomed to fail after he overspends and tries to expand too quickly. Attempting to fix things in the present, Tony soon figures out that he might do better to improve things by changing past decisions. And things start to go a bit wrong.
Although almost entirely set on a train, and with a fairly small central cast, Last Train To Christmas doesn’t feel small in scale, or inhibited in any way. It helps that the main characters are shown in so many different iterations (played well by a variety of actors, but Sheen and Elwes are the undeniable stars of the show) and the whole thing has a building momentum that energises the material. And, yes, keeping some money from the budget to spend on some popular, proper, Christmas hit songs also helps.
Kemp has come up with a wonderful way to mix the familiar with something a bit fresh, unafraid to take things to a very dark place (in line with the classic tale influencing it), but managing to keep viewers seeing the chance for even the smallest ray of hope. A light at the end of the train tunnel, as it were.
Sheen has a blast in his role, sporting a variety of looks that see him going from glitz to pure business, from prime ‘80s TV presenter to someone who has decided to age with the help of cosmetic surgery. Every actor portraying his character does a good job, but Sheen is the heart of the film. Elwes is equally good though, and almost unrecognizable for most of the runtime. Emmanuel is sadly underused, but as welcome as ever, and there are small roles for Katherine Kelly, Phyllis Logan, Danny Ashok, and John Thomson, as well as cameo appearances from Robin Askwith and Hayley Mills.
While the performances make the most of the material, the script deserves more praise than most Christmas movie scripts. First of all, it’s interesting to have a central character who isn’t necessarily an oblivious villain at the start. Tony Towers is egotistical and a bit selfish, but he’s no monster. Secondly, there are a number of little details that are nicely worked throughout the script to build the bigger picture, yet viewers are also asked to extrapolate whatever chain of events has changed the ripples of time as Tony moves from carriage to carriage. It’s very clever stuff.
This is a really enjoyable film to watch in the run up to Christmas. Maybe not as funny as some might expect, but it blends everything together really well. And you certainly get plenty of Michael Sheen for your money.
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