Staycation blues? This sentimental journey is just for you: BRIAN VINER reviews Off The Rails

Off The Rails (15)


Verdict: Well-timed, feel good movie 

The World To Come (15)


Verdict: Meticulous period romance

Was there ever a film more perfectly timed than Off The Rails, in which three middle-aged women, and a teenage girl, take an Interrail trip through Europe, burying old hatchets and igniting new romances?

In this staycation summer, in which holiday destinations across the Channel have never seemed so far away, here are four women travelling through France, Spain and Italy, happily ignorant of quarantine regulations, enviably free of masks. It’s just the escapism we need, and the accompaniment of majestic Blondie tracks propels those of us of a certain age right back in time, as well as sideways across the continent.

Mind you, it’s a death that has sent them on their way, and their trip is also bedevilled by a long-ago love rivalry, not to mention time-of-life issues. ‘Of the 32 symptoms of the menopause, I have 34,’ says Liz (Sally Phillips, who gets all the best lines).

Musing on her long, monogamous marriage, Liz equates it to ‘signing a contract to say you’ll only eat ready-salted crisps for the rest of your life. I mean, what about salt and vinegar? Prawn cocktail?’

Scene from Off The Rails, which offers 'just the escapism we need', according to Brian Viner

Scene from Off The Rails, which offers 'just the escapism we need', according to Brian Viner

Scene from Off The Rails, which offers ‘just the escapism we need’, according to Brian Viner

The feel-good Off The Rails film follows four women as they go interrailing through Europe

The feel-good Off The Rails film follows four women as they go interrailing through Europe

The feel-good Off The Rails film follows four women as they go interrailing through Europe 

As it turns out, their journey could hardly be more flavoursome. Their final destination is Palma Cathedral in Majorca where, at a specific time on a particular day, sunlight streams through a coloured-glass window at such an angle that it creates a magical light effect. This rather reminded me of another feelgood film with a light show, 1983’s

Local Hero, and indeed there’s a further connection in the slender form of Jenny Seagrove, whose character in Bill Forsyth’s eternal charmer was so young and so carefree.

Here she plays the uptight and impecunious Kate, who’s no ray of sunshine, with a lifetime of regrets and near-misses behind her. Nothing makes you reflect on the passing of your own decades quite like the movies.

But, as I say, this is a feel-good picture, even though it begins with news that cancer has prematurely claimed the life of Anna, giving us a short burst of the glorious Judi Dench, playing her heartbroken old mum.

Anna has left four rail tickets, decreeing from beyond the grave that her three old pals will travel to Palma with her 18-year-old daughter Maddie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips).

The other friend is Cassie, exuberantly played by Kelly Preston. This yields another, more poignant case of life and art colliding, because Preston, the wife of John Travolta, died last summer of breast cancer.

Anyway, off go the quartet through Europe; and Jules Williamson’s film, with a screenplay by Jordan Waller, nicely balances broad comic misadventures with grown-up anxieties and recriminations, as well as romantic attachment (one falls for Franco Nero’s urbane Italian mayor, another for Ben Miller’s amiable British trou- badour). There’s a lot packed into this appealing film’s concise running time. It’s like a 94-minute-long holiday.

Katherine Waterson and Vanessa Kirby in passionate moment in The World To Come, set in rural 1850s America

Katherine Waterson and Vanessa Kirby in passionate moment in The World To Come, set in rural 1850s America

Katherine Waterson and Vanessa Kirby in passionate moment in The World To Come, set in rural 1850s America 

Female friendship is tackled in a strikingly different way in The World To Come, set in rural America in the 1850s, where gloomy Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is mourning a child and going through the motions of frontier life with her taciturn farmer husband (Casey Affleck). 

The narrative drive is provided by Abigail’s diary: ‘With little pride and less hope we begin the new year…’ Then, a new neighbour arrives on the other side of the hill. 

This is the outgoing, ravishing Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), who is also shackled to a puritanical husband, but unlike Abigail has the beans to stand up to him.

Tallie brings light to Abigail’s bleakness as each gives the other what they don’t get from their husbands: empathy, conversation, fun. 

Soon, they add what they don’t give their husbands: sexual passion.

Meticulously directed by Mona Fastvold, and written with a perfect ear for 19th-century language by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, this is another in what has recently become practically a genre in its own right: the lesbian period drama.

But it deserves to sit alongside the best of the others, which include The Favourite, Ammonite, and Portrait Of A Lady On Fire.

Riders of Justice (15)


Verdict: Revenge thriller with laughs 

Riders Of Justice is a terrific Danish-language film in which Markus, a soldier (played by the splendid Mads Mikkelsen), returns home on compassionate leave after his wife is killed in a train ‘accident’.

Then a nerdy bunch of algorithm experts, one of whom was on the same train, convince him that his wife was actually ‘collateral damage’ in an assassination by a motorbike gang, the eponymous Riders Of Justice.

Mads Mikkelsen in the 'revenge thriller' Riders of Justice

Mads Mikkelsen in the 'revenge thriller' Riders of Justice

Mads Mikkelsen in the ‘revenge thriller’ Riders of Justice

In plotting vengeance, they form an unlikely alliance — the hot-headed military man and the nerds — while also navigating the strained relationship between Markus and his adolescent daughter. 

None of this can be called a comedy, exactly, but it is genuinely hilarious in parts and captivating throughout.

Old (15)


Verdict: Won’t age well 

This extravagantly silly film teeters precariously on the premise that a bunch of holidaymakers at a swanky tropical island hotel end up on a secluded beach where really weird stuff happens.

To be precise, they start ageing uncontrollably. I know we all age uncontrollably, but this lot age like the clappers… up to 50 years in a day. It’s meant to be chilling and creepy, but honestly, it’s a hoot.

The normally reliable Rufus Sewell plays a surgeon who loses his mind, becomes a homicidal maniac, then dies in a convulsion of terrible acting.

Vicky Krieps, so splendid opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread (2017), looks understandably startled when her two young children turn into teenagers literally while her back is turned, but five minutes later has pretty much come to terms with it. ‘It’s probably a virus,’ she says, just like anyone would if their six-year-old cutie-pie suddenly sprouted pubic hair and a Bramley of an Adam’s apple.

Meanwhile, a little girl grows up, conceives a baby and gives birth before anyone has time to put up a deckchair.

So this really is a beach where weird stuff happens. It turns good actors into bad, and a writer-director with one cast-iron classic behind him, namely M Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), into a floundering hack.


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