Spall’s Well That Ends Well

Electric Dreams: “The Commuter” (Tom Harper, 2017)

Now this is more like it — a fantasy partly set at Woking Station.

Funnily enough, I was looking at train times to Woking today and I’ve been there a couple of times. It get destroyed in War of the Worlds.

Ed (Timothy Spall) works at the station and is asked by a mysterious commuter, Linda (Tuppence Middleton) for a ticket to Macon Heights, a place that doesn’t exist. Eventually, troubled by his son’s disintegrating mental health, he boards the train towards Aldershot, for this impossible town twenty-eight minutes away.

Rather alarmingly, he goes to Southampton Central, a good fifty minutes from Woking.

But he finds Macon Heights, a wish-fulfilment town that looks like Prince Charles’s chocolate box new town. He finds a diner where they play jazz (he loves jazz) and serve heavenly cake. The price is, his son never existed, he was never born (and his workmate has three children by three mothers).

The writer, Jack Thorne, might have taken liberties with the original, but he gets what The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t: the real dystopia is better than the fake utopia. Ed wants his life back.

It’s powered by a typically nuanced and strong performance by Spall, and some nice tricksy shots of angles pivoting as he climbs a ladder or Linda vanishing off screen. His moral dilemma is perhaps clunkily set up (but a man with vinyl clearly would have a VCR) and it feels rather obviously that he is being tested, but I think I’m willing to overlook this.

And of course overlook the biggest fantasy of all, that all of those trains would be on time.

I am only slightly grumpy that the only character who could be described as a commuter is a very minor one.

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