I cannot resist an ode to a beloved pet dog. A regal photo of Bruce, a golden lab, pops up at the end of the credits in dedication; presumably once a member of writer-director Paul Morrison’s family, and seemingly the inspiration for this tender tale of love and devotion.
Two dog lovers come upon one another during a much-loved walk near Hampstead Heath, London and animosity soon turns to a heart-wrenching romance. A well observed and sensitive portrayal of later-age courting and companionship, Morrison’s frank yet endearing story made for some touching moments of transparency in these relationships, with themes of past spouses, dementia, grandchildren, housing issues, performance anxiety in bed, and the passing of a four-legged friend.
Fern (played by a sparkling Alison Steadman), a twice-divorcee and owner of spunky Yorkie Henry, soon becomes intrigued by Dave, a soft-spoken retired nurse (Dave Johns) and his graceful German shepherd Tillie and joins him on 23 leisurely walks. Their companionship, founded on conversational Spanish lessons and greater and greater expanses of green, blossoms in the safe canopy of the trees and woodlands of North London.
There are moments that bring them down to earth, outside of the park, in which they test one another’s resolve, and soon find out whether they are ready or willing to fall in love again. Steadman’s sultry singing makes a gorgeous highlight on a walk which bowls Dave and the other park-goers over in awe and pride. Though a little stagnant and under-edited in some places, giving a very laid-back film-school-short-film pace to the piece, their warm performances and chemistry pull the story through its ups and pretty tear-jerking downs. The film also goes some way in attempting to illustrate London’s diversity with a mixed-race family and the cultural foods that are celebrated through such a union, including some mouth-watering shots of Jamaican Jerk Chicken.
Overall, a great sense of life and adventure shines and like any good story-telling, I was taken right back to sitting with my own elderly dog as she passed, and equally to those early moments of dating where you fear sharing too much and spoiling the ethereality of the moment (which often comes back to bite you). This self-reflection is a testament to the cinematography too, which shone in creating a very personal and lived-in feeling to the aesthetically understated and calming shots, allowing the characters to embody the screen in the most natural way possible. A shout-out is owed too, to the impeccably trained dogs (who very impressively did not have doubles, just in case of ‘accidents’) who truly embodied their leading roles and who made my heart beat a little faster.