23 Walks – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Paul Morrison
Writer: Paul Morrison
Stars: Dave Johns, Alison Steadman, Bob Goody, Graham Cole
Unintentionally there is a touch of the zeitgeist about 23 Walks. Have we ever seen so many pet dogs? Has there ever been so much walking in our parks? Many love stories may be happening before our eyes daily and there we were thinking the owners were comparing worm powders. We will now want to walk nearby and eavesdrop on possible subjects, like Dave and Fern. On first viewing this appears to be a gentle sedate film about two older – if not elderly – Londoners walking their dogs in a wonderfully lush and leafy Hampstead Heath. A frosty chance encounter is followed up by further encounters, as must happen with regulars, same time and same place. And little by little Fern’s uptight standoffishness succumbs to the charms of Dave. Although if the truth were told there’s something dodgy about Dave and it is his endearing dog, Tilly, that has most of the charm.
Nonetheless, we come to share his journey, the highs and lows. He is sensitive and means well and deserves a chance. And we feel his isolation and loneliness as he comes to fancy Fern, emotionally and physically. We want her to like him, even though he’s trying too hard at times and we slightly cringe on his behalf.
This is a gentle film and follows the standard route of many love stories, but it is not just soft-focus slush as it could easily have been. These are living breathing sexual beings. And that is almost radical on-screen. It reminds us that sex is not just for the bright young things with lithe bodies and a devil may care outlook. Here we have the rare sight, cinematically at least, of older people actually wanting and having sex. And it touches on the awkwardness that age may bring to such encounters. Perhaps all the humping and heaving is more bother than it’s worth! In its way it is almost a political statement, reminding us of a basic energising force through life that remains largely taboo on stage and screen. Add in a few swipes at inadequate healthcare, public housing shortfalls, uncaring council staff, family tensions, and a separating husband with attitude, the film provides food for thought as well as motivation to get a dog and go walking!