Paul Morrison’s 23 Walks is a slow-burning focus on the hidden difficulties of new relationships at an older age, with great performances by Alison Steadman and Dave Johns.
Conscious Couplingby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
At first 23 Walks promises to turn out like just another a soppy middle-aged rom-com. Alison Steadman (Life Is Sweet) and Dave Johns meet walking their dogs – typically, hers a little terrier, his a big alsatian – in a pleasant north London park overlooking a breathtaking panorama of the city. Of course, they get off on the wrong foot in walk number one. But Johns is playing a friendly, open Northeasterner, very similar to his I, Daniel Blake character, who disarms frosty middle-class Steadman and cuts through the class and emotional boundaries between them as their walks continue on a regular basis – he keeps count of how many they’ve done together.
But there’s a devastating surprise halfway through that changes the course of their developing relationship and adds an unexpected depth to the film. 23 Walks takes a darker turn as it focuses on the emotional and practical baggage that people who have already lived a life with its exes, children and grandchildren, as well as their own hurt, eventually have to bring to the reality of a new relationship.
Writer/director Paul Morrison (Solomon and Gaenor) also weaves into the mix social housing shortages, divorce and dementia (a prevalent current movie theme), all of them complications that have to be negotiated in later life.
Steadman and Johns are on screen and central throughout and are delightful to watch. Thankfully, we don’t plod through all 23 walks, though the film takes us through the changing seasons, just a charm bracelet of highlights and turning points. Though the trajectory of their relationship has a realistic arc and the characterisations are well defined, some of their dialogue seems unconvincingly unlike something people would actually say or simply a space filler and it could have done with sharpening in an additional draft. And why do romantic meetings like this always seem to be set in a photogenic part of north London and not anywhere in the regions?
That said, this is a heart-warming film that will greatly appeal to an older age group – and dog lovers for the cute dogs – though it should not be restricted to them. It has much worthwhile to say about everyday life and the hidden difficulties and vulnerabilities of starting new relationships at an older age.
23 Walks is released on 25 September 2020 in the UK/