UK Release Date: 28th September 2018
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Betsan Morris Evans
Writer: Rob Isted
Starring: Luke Newberry, Genevieve Gaunt, Ian Hart, Iain Glen, Ben Batt, Lesley Sharp, Tom Prior
Synopsis: In the summer between his time at private school and university, a teenager befriends a slightly pathetic greyhound as he tries to readjust to living with his decidedly working class Yorkshire family.
Sometimes, we demand a lot from cinema. We ask for films that transport us into fantastical worlds and feature superlative acting from the world’s biggest names. Sometimes, though, what we need is an endlessly charming story about a young lad and his dog. That movie is the lovably ragged Dusty & Me from TV director Betsan Morris Evans. It’s a colourful and lo-fi drama that benefits from a consistently silly script and performances that have just the right amount of British quirk.
The story orbits around Luke Newberry as the titular Yorkshire lad, returning home to his working class family having spent some time away at a private boarding school. His elder brother Little Eddie (Ben Batt) picks him up and takes him to the local pub, where he meets runaway greyhound Slapper. When the owner Mickey the Bubble (Iain Glen) returns home, they make an arrangement allowing Dusty to take Slapper for walks throughout the summer, while Mickey kennels her overnight so as to keep her away from Dusty’s dog-hating father Big Eddie (Ian Hart). As Dusty and Slapper grow closer, he also begins to chat to Chrissie (Genevieve Gaunt), who works in the local chip shop.
Everything about Dusty & Me oozes Britishness. Set in the punk heyday of the 1970s, it brilliantly channels the contrast between the affluent, snooty private school of the opening and the vibrant, exciting world of a Yorkshire street in which everyone knows and likes just about everyone else. It’s a simple world, encapsulated in Ian Hart’s grumpy patriarch, who dubs chess “fancy pants draughts” and can’t understand his son’s desire to “read books and real newspapers”. Hart’s curmudgeonly performance is the comic highlight of the movie, whether he’s scowling with disapproval at a plate of pasta or engaging in inane, semi-racist pub chat.
The movie’s heart, though, is in the relationship between Newberry and Gaunt, facilitated and assisted by the adorable pooch they care for together. Newberry is a fish out of water having spent time at private school and also a fish out of water in that people in his area begin to like him for the first time when Slapper brings him out of his shell. It would be wrong to compare Dusty & Me to thoroughly to Kes, but the notion of a coming of age tale told through animal care is a relevant comparison. Newberry and Gaunt are refreshingly committed to their roles as slightly gawky teens who have no idea how relationships work, which is something we have all been able to identify with at one point in our lives.
They are surrounded by a selection of great supporting turns, as well as the endless energy of the candy-coloured setting. Iain Glen, of Game of Thrones fame, is particularly great value as the wig-wearing Mickey the Bubble. He’s all bravado and arrogance, but warms to Dusty and Chrissie as the audience does, leading a delightful pub karaoke rendition of ‘The Things We Do For Love’ in the final scene. Lesley Sharp also delivers a surprisingly emotional turn as Dusty’s mother, whose big-hearted role expands as the movie winds towards its emotional conclusion.
And when the conclusion comes, it comes with a surge of emotion that is basic, formulaic and has been seen a million times before. None of that, however, provides adequate preparation for a finale that is every bit as sweetly funny and enjoyable as the hour that has come before it. No one would argue that Dusty & Me is going to join the pantheon of all-time British classics, but it’s a witty and good-natured story that ekes every ounce of charm from its Northern time capsule setting – and there’s an adorable dog in it too. It absolutely charmed the pants off of me.
Pop or Poop?
Dusty & Me is the avatar of what British cinema often does so well. It’s an unashamedly silly and adorably creaky comedy-drama that benefits from the natural chemistry between its cast members, as well as a sharp script packed with quotable one-liners. The two Ia(i)ns, Hart and Glen, deserve ample praise for their comic work, but it’s Luke Newberry’s slightly pathetic protagonist who gives this movie its considerable heart. I certainly shed a tear.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.