Apple TV+ film review: Come from Away
James R | On 10, Sep 2021
“Welcome to the rock if you come from away. You’ll probably understand about half of what we say. They say no man’s an island but an island makes a man. Especially when one comes from one like Newfoundland.” Those are the opening words to Come from Away, an uplifting musical that tells the true story of the airline passengers whose flights were diverted to the town of Gander, Canada, after the 9/11 attacks.
If the word “uplifting” sounds out of place, that’s at the heart of the musical’s remarkable achievement. The show begins as the passengers find their voyages diverted without knowing why – and those diversions catch the residents of Gander off-guard too. A tiny community flooded with 7,000 additional people, its population effectively doubled in size overnight, leaving everyone scrabbling to work out how to make ends meet. They run to the supermarkets to get supplies, then run back again and again when they realise that it isn’t enough, while the buildings open up their doors to make room for people to squeeze in and find floor space to sleep.
It’s a heartwarming display of welcome, the kind of thing that would sound sentimental and maudlin in a fictional tale, but the fact that it actually happened makes it all the more moving – especially given the terror and turmoil that was spreading across the rest of the country. With airspace shut down out of fear of further threats, there’s a believable ripple of uncertainty and suspicion, as these international guests turn up without all speaking English, but it’s overwhelmed by sheer kindness.
Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s book and songs capture that aw-shucks compassion with an earnest sincerity and self-deprecating wit, uniting the cast in choruses about unity and using everything from Bibles and drink to find common ground among its ensemble. It’s an impressively diverse ensemble, and each member is dazzlingly versatile, able to hope between characters and locations at the drop of a hat. Romances and unlikely friendships spring up, all forged through the trauma that everyone is going through, each person tired and afraid but also aware that they have no option other than to keep going.
Director Christopher Ashley taps into that dogged momentum to create a film that moves with same winning energy, as the cast and crew are expertly choreographed to whisk us from airplane cabins to crowded bars with minimal fuss and set dressing. The cameras whip us up into that frenzy, moving us from the wings to the auditorium and on to the stage, capturing the enthusiasm of the people on and off stage – let alone the cheering, rousing audience who all attended this specially staged production for them to film.
And yet the production knows when to pause as well, to reflect on the harrowing news unfolding on the town’s TV screens, to give the passengers a chance to phone loved ones and even to tell the story of Beverley Bass, the first female captain of an American Airlines commercial plane.
It feels like a thrilling feat as all these disparate parts are pulled together to make an unlikely hit musical, echoing the way the town and its guests all join together to pull off something so against the odds. The result is a positive celebration of hope and humanity that still resonates 20 years on from the events it portrays – a timeless, uplifting message that deserves to leave its legacy in living rooms around the world.
Come from Away is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial.