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The Last Train

05 Feb

The Last Train DVD BOX FRONT Recently I have been rewatching the excellent and underrated series The Last Train (Cruel Earth for Canadian viewers).  The old DVD cover opposite gives a nice brief overview of the story which, despite being done a million times before and since, retains its appeal with some memorable scenes.

Now I watched this when it originally came out in 1999 so it wasn’t entirely surprising that it deals with the narrative that it does. Irrespective of that though, I loved it but now with older and more squinty eyes I can see it in a new perhaps slightly more impartial light.

Six episodes were all we British could do back in the day, with only one writer and the financial constraints of a tiny budget compared to our US brethren.  I believe it cost something like £4 million to make the whole thing overall.  These days it goes by the title ‘mini series’ and I’m sure would garner a lot of attention if remade and elongated, although this obsession with milking TV shows until viewers turn off in droves is very vexing in TV these days, at least some do have the foresight to go out on a high.

Being typically British, everything about this production is low tech but this is also its strength.  Many apocalyptic shows these days, seem overly polished, like the detritus in the aftermath of a world shattering event has been set up to make it look like a ruin. The sets on The Last Train actually do feel real, they feel gritty and desolate, in fact just like post recession England (topical!).  Apart from the mercifully rare CGI shots it does look like a dead world, there is no need for a buried Statue of Liberty or anything of that nature because the focus is on real relatable people and the predicament that they find themselves in.

Even after all these years and improvements in technology, it’s still an immersive watch mainly due to some great settings.  Apart from the usual sort of places one sees in these sorts of shows, we are treated to a few lesser travelled to places.  I’m loathe to mention them but the actors do get some all to brief moments to flesh out their characters within these barren, yet often arresting locales.

There are some really emotive parts scattered through the show, some of the set pieces are truly poignant and often disturbing as well.  The whole saga is made even more atmospheric with the soundtrack, a sort of melancholy lament to the terror of a hell that we never saw take place and the civilization annihilated in its wake.  Like all the best TV, It’s emotion driven and even though certain areas are skimped upon it still works.

For all the waxing of the lyrical variety that I have just espoused, there are some drawbacks to the show, most of which can be blamed on the shortness of its run.  Although the plot is racily paced, this has the drawback of not allowing much in the way of character development, some of which does seem forced…it’s a shame when there are some wonderful moments of characters recalling the past which passes by all to briefly.

Really the show needed to have been a slow burner, hammering into the viewer week after week, just how grim everything and sad everything is and what depth these everyday people have, the background to how they lived, what they miss and how they choose to deal with it.  Having said that there is a fair amount of caring about the gang to be had, that again has everything to do with the backdrops that seem to ooze the feeling that bad things will happen and there will be nobody to help them…ever.

It’s that feeling of mortality blended with a small amount of humour that makes you want to carry on watching.  Whilst some characters evolve, some are extremely two-dimensional but what would be a notably stark contrast in a series with a longer run, doesn’t matter quite as much here.  More frustratingly there is the odd leap of plot logic and stupid behaviour of certain characters that will have you sighing or rolling your eyes.  Having said that where would the plot development be if everybody acted sensibly?

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You may have noticed the 18 rating, which is probably inaccurate these days, there is little sex and only one bit of visual ‘nastiness’ which you will probably see coming a long time before it happens anyway…most of the bad things that happen to the bunch are left to the imagination, which is probably worse if you think about it.  I’m all for skipping a bit or muting the TV if needs be but when you are left to ponder on a thing it becomes more magnified and much worse than any bit of filming could make it.

I remember the hype for this show, there were adverts for it everywhere and then once the first episode aired they just stopped which is an intriguing way of doing things and in common with this review I find the ending of the show to be slightly rushed but does tie up all the plot threads.  Viewed as a show of its time and leaving some leeway for the odd bit of hammy acting – that still runs through British acting today – if you see this on the televisual box or find other means of watching it, you can’t go far wrong.

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36 Comments

Posted by on 05/02/2014 in TV

 

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36 responses to “The Last Train

  1. Al

    05/02/2014 at 18:11

    I downloaded this a couple of months ago ready to watch, I wanted to let my kids watch it as well, seeing as I thoroughly enjoyed it when it was on. I remember bits of it now and the surprises, although the bit you see coming from a mile off can still be quite disturbing but it does fit perfectly with the show.

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    • Ste J

      05/02/2014 at 18:13

      I was beginning to fear I was the only one who remembered this as not many other people I know do…I’m more than happy not to have given any (re)spoilers away. I don’t remember watching much else since that has had that air of gloom and mystery. Everyone should watch it at least once…if just for Colin.

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      • Al

        05/02/2014 at 18:15

        Colin?

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        • Ste J

          05/02/2014 at 18:18

          The scouse businessman…I won’t say more though for it is great to re-remember it all as it happens.

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          • Al

            05/02/2014 at 18:20

            Oh yes. I vaguely remember now.

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            • Ste J

              05/02/2014 at 18:32

              I am glad my review was quite timely…I am jealous of you getting to re-experience it again for the first time.

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              • Al

                05/02/2014 at 18:43

                I can send it to you if you wish

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                • Ste J

                  05/02/2014 at 18:48

                  I have my own copy, cheers mate, I haven’t been around the blog recently for precisely that reason!

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  2. Christina ~

    06/02/2014 at 20:03

    You know I do love me some good end of the world movies/shows!! Your vivid and intriguing description of this show has me anticipatious to watch! It is all ways magical to read your unique view of…well everything… xxxxxx

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    • Ste J

      07/02/2014 at 18:06

      I do like to go for the obscure or underrated things in life, or with respect to this, plain missed. You shall watch it as surely as Cinderella did go to the ball, arm yourself with a free poured rum and diet 7up though, for no other reason than because you can. xxxxxx

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  3. RoSy

    07/02/2014 at 00:05

    I obviously missed the train here…

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    • Ste J

      07/02/2014 at 18:01

      There will be another one along shortly, it will probably be overcrowded, uncomfortable and to expensive…none of which applied to the titular train here.

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  4. evermoreevil

    07/02/2014 at 17:36

    A great review of a show I have never had the chance to watch. I will rectify immediately. I love these kinds of post-apocalyptic sagas, and we Brits did a fair few good ones back in the day. I sometimes think a low budget helps the producers to be more creative, but the chance fora longer run with larger sets to run around in would be most welcome!

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    • Ste J

      07/02/2014 at 18:03

      You are in luck for I can lend you that with Blake’s 7 as well. Low budget is grittier, more earthy, more visceral in all ways. I think our cheapness now helps in this ‘post recession world…as the quality of our programmes tends to stay as cheap as they always were.

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      • evermoreevil

        08/02/2014 at 09:56

        Thank you very much, sir! I think with a low budget comes more ingenuity, and more focus on plot and story (usually) than showing-off with big explosions. Although big explosions are lots of fun.

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        • Ste J

          08/02/2014 at 11:25

          Well true, nothing wrong with a mahoosive boom but story depth by far beats flat narratives with a bunch of explosions…although I did enjoy The Expendables.

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          • evermoreevil

            11/02/2014 at 18:47

            Great film, as was the sequel, in which Chuck Norris manages to be both a walking parody AND super cool, both at the sane time!

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  5. evermoreevil

    07/02/2014 at 17:38

    I must add….all the elipses…on the DVD cover…are slightly annoying…

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    • Ste J

      07/02/2014 at 18:00

      When drama fails…ooer I’m at it myself now!

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  6. Letizia

    07/02/2014 at 20:05

    I’ve never heard of this show but love a good apocalyptic tale, especially a low budget one. I agree with you, imagined horror is much worse than shown doom and gloom. That’s maybe why I had to stop reading Stephen King novels for a while – my dreams were getting crazy!

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    • Ste J

      07/02/2014 at 20:11

      There is some grim pleasure derived from seeing everything gone wrong yet everyone sticking to their own prejudices like it still matters. Fun times indeed! King’s imagination is mental ( I hope he quotes me on his next book cover), I fancy reading another King book now you mention it.

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  7. thejerseygal®™

    08/02/2014 at 03:12

    British TV shows are quite different than American ones. If it is because of cultural differences, fine, but please pay homage to the Monty Python films and Life of Brian…films, yes, but British TV shows in my head would be more like those, haha

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    • Ste J

      08/02/2014 at 11:34

      We do have some pretty dark and surreal comedies that may impress you as much as the Monty Python stuff…time though has moved on and a lot of our stuff is pretty standard but there is some good stuff on Netflix. You can’t beat a bit of the Holy Grail though, I must seek that out and watch it soon.

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      • thejerseygal®™

        08/02/2014 at 17:39

        Omg, I learn something new every day! Netflix is in the UK! You should’ve seen my reaction when I found out Domino’s pizza was there!
        Oh the Holy Grail! Yes, that must be re-visited!

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        • Ste J

          09/02/2014 at 17:09

          We even have McDonalds over here these days! Our Netflix isn’t half as good as your version but it does for my 80’s fix.

          I wouldn’t mind a trip to that castle Anthrax from Holy Grail, lol.

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          • thejerseygal®™

            09/02/2014 at 17:53

            I knew Mickey Dee’s was everywhere! Why do you like 80’s tv? You were in diapers then, right?
            Meaning of Life was a goody, too. Mr. Creosote. Ka-boom!

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            • Ste J

              09/02/2014 at 17:56

              I wasn’t a fan of Meaning of Life at all…in fact I didn’t laugh once. Classic TV lasts, I was born in the 80’s so I got to experience a bit of it and I am a sucker for films of the era. Watched a bit of Robocop earlier and it was amazing, I wonder how the new one will stand up to it.

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              • thejerseygal®™

                09/02/2014 at 18:00

                Oh man! I thought that dining scene was awesome. 80’s films, some good, a lot cheesy bad. Another Robocop?

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                • Ste J

                  09/02/2014 at 18:12

                  I thought I was behind on film things but yes there is a modern Robocop coming out really soon and it looks alright. I love my cheesy films in fact there is a blog post half done about it.

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                  • thejerseygal®™

                    09/02/2014 at 20:43

                    When here in the states did you go see any movies? Do you like Thor or Captain America? New Captain America in April!

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                    • Ste J

                      11/02/2014 at 18:01

                      I didn’t see any films, we almost did but there was nothing on at the time we were looking so we went for an awesome meal instead.

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                    • thejerseygal®™

                      12/02/2014 at 13:27

                      Good substitute!

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  8. LuAnn

    09/02/2014 at 13:30

    I have never heard of this series. It sounds like my kind of intrigue.

    SteJ, with your innate ability to unravel a plot in such detail, I cannot begin to imagine how wonderful it would be to sit down and consume a book of your penning. Any thoughts on writing a book? 🙂

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    • Ste J

      09/02/2014 at 17:04

      I really enjoyed it, as a friend of mine said, it could have done with a little more plot description and examples of stuff to add to the review but that is why he is a film reviewer and I am just learning.

      I do have a few thousand words of a book going on. I need to carry on with it and this is the opportune time, you would have yourself a signed copy of course when it is completed.

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      • LuAnn

        09/02/2014 at 19:31

        I would be very honored and without even knowing the subject matter, I am certain it would be spellbinding. 🙂

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