Alison Steadman, Dave Johns
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The real joy of this tender love story is in its details, the beauty in the mundane, the quiet pain of those yearning for companionship and friendship and the silent power in a simple story about two elderly people walking their dogs.
In the opening minutes of 23 Walks, Dave (Dave Johns from I, Daniel Blake) provokes the ire of Fern, (Alison Steadman from Gavin and Stacey), a fellow dog walker, while walking his beloved German Shepherd ‘Tilly’ off leash. Dave is a retired nurse who spends his days helping his daughter raise his beloved grandkids and walks his dog across the rolling green North London parklands as part of his daily constitutional.
His initial meeting of Fern while she walks her small Pomeranian ‘Henry’ does not bode well. Despite this, every day in the same woods, they encounter one another. Eventually, the grouchy hostility gives way to conversation, understanding and empathy. The pair become closer over the subsequent weeks, meeting by chance while out on their walks and then eventually, there’s invitations for cups of tea and board games and ultimately, dinner. Fern has separated from her husband and is preparing to attend her daughter’s wedding in Spain. Dave lives alone but is very much involved with his daughter and son’s lives. The pair both crave companionship but thorny issues from their respective pasts rear their ugly heads.
Director Paul Morrison (Little Ashes, Wondrous Oblivion) brings a light touch and a deft directorial hand to this film, which looks outwardly like a treacly romantic drama. Ultimately, it’s more akin in style to a ‘kitchen sink’ Ken Loach film, though with a much sweeter tone and without the political polemics.
The deliberate pacing and subtle characterisations give life to Dave and Fern, they feel ‘real’, a testament to the beautifully subtle performances from Dave Johns and Alison Steadman. That honesty and commitment to authenticity is reflected in the way their ‘meet cute’ and romance plays out, their concerns are the same as most elderly parents: they’re still managing their own financial difficulties, still parenting their adult children through their own crises and trying to find companionship and a relationship in the years of their life that they thought would be carefree.
Over the course of the story, they navigate the entrenched emotional traumas of their own lives and find a way to make space for themselves, to begin a new chapter and their burgeoning relationship. The real joy of this tender love story is in its details, the beauty in the mundane, the quiet pain of those yearning for companionship and friendship and the silent power in a simple story about two elderly people walking their dogs.