English kitchen-sink realism isn't ordinarily my cup of tea, but the way Australian writer-director-coproducer Fred Schepisi follows four friends across 40 years creates such a lovely mosaic, acted with such heart, power, and flavor, that I was hooked from the start. It's a tale anchored around the delivery of a butcher's ashes to Margate by three of his former pub mates (Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins) and his resentful son (Ray Winstone). Michael Caine plays the butcher in flashbacks, and it's one of his strongest performances; no less affecting is Helen Mirren as his wife. (I assume the absence of Oscar nominations must have something to do with studio politics.) Adapted from Graham Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel, this 2001 movie will probably mean the most to viewers old enough to know who Courtenay and Hemmings are and thus to ponder what age has done to their faces, though the actors found to play them and the others in their youth are uncannily persuasive. The personal investments of the lead actors in their parts are palpable; you don't have to know that Caine is staying in the same hospital where his real-life father (a fish porter) died to recognize that he feels this character down to his marrow. 109 min. Pipers Alley, Wilmette.

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