23 Walks

 

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A film made with a very specific audience in mind.

 
23 Walks

Alison Steadman, Alsatian, Yorkshire terrier and Dave Johns

 

Those who think of themselves as sophisticated viewers may visibly blanch when faced with a film like this. What the writer/director Paul Morrison provides here is certainly not for them and, while that may apply particularly to the first half-hour or so of 23 Walks, it is that part of it which is arguably the most sure-footed. Morrison has seized on the fact that there are plenty of viewers who would relish seeing a contemporary tale about two lonely people of a certain age meeting and falling in love. Thus it is that we have Dave (Dave Johns from I, Daniel Blake) encountering Fern (Alison Steadman) in a North London park where both regularly walk their dogs. The fact that their first encounter is confrontational carries an echo of that romcom standby in which the couple who will become lovers initially dislike one another, but even so 23 Walks is a genuinely romantic tale rather than a romcom.

 

It is easy to mock such simple material, but Morrison knows his audience and is helped both by the casting and by the pleasing colour photography in 'Scope which makes the most of the locations. Gary Yershon's music score also gets the tone right and although, as per the title, the couple take twenty-three walks Morrison wisely numbers them on screen only from time to time. Fern, a former receptionist, and Dave, who had been a psychiatric nurse, have reached retirement age and, while she has recently divorced a husband who has left her to take up with his secretary, he talks of his late wife. These two are people for whom draughts is the game of choice and who are at home singing 'Hippopotamus' ("Mud, mud, glorious mud..."), the song made famous by Flanders and Swann. Simplistic this may be, but it will naturally be attractive in the eyes of many older viewers.

 

Inevitably taking this situation and turning it into a full-length film calls for a number of twists and turns in the plot to keep it going. The surprise discovery that emerges in the film's middle section works well enough for this purpose, but there is still some way to go and, if a certain estrangement between the couple is credible the first time, it seems a bit forced when the film chooses to play that card twice. Doing so also results in a film which at 102 minutes seems a bit overstretched. For that matter it is the case too that, although Johns is never less than a sympathetic presence, the extra experience of his co-star Alison Steadman does show through and ensures that it is she who carries the film.

 

One or two touches of social concern do emerge in the course of 23 Walks but any tipping of the hat to Ken Loach is only incidental. As I have indicated, the film is overtly popular in style and that is so right down to the casting of Fern's terrier and Dave's German shepherd. However, despite weaker moments, it is apparent that what might have been sentimental and maudlin to a degree is handled in such a way that, while unlikely to win over those who disdain the very sound of it, the film should indeed please those who feel that 23 Walks has something to offer them.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Dave Johns, Alison Steadman, Marsha Miller, Natalie Simpson, Graham Turner, Graham Cole, Bob Goody, Vivienne Soan, Rakhee Thakrar.

 

Dir Paul Morrison, Pro Stewart Le Marechal, Anna Mohr-Pietsch and Maggie Monteith, Screenplay Paul Morrison, Ph David Katznelson, Pro Des Natalie O'Connor, Ed Bruce Green, Music Gary Yershon, Costumes Laura Smith.

 

Met Film Productions/Hallworthy Films-Parkland Entertainment.
102 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 25 September 2020. Available in cinemas. Cert. 12A.