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FILM REVIEW: Dusty & Me

10 September 2018 | London Calling

Dusty & Me, the touching story of a boy and his greyhound, is Northern England’s answer to Ladybird (2017), and will be released on VOD channels on 1 October!

This coming-of-age tale mixes tongue-in-cheek humour with quirky directing from award winner Betsan Evans Morris, to paint an entertaining picture of 1970’s Northern life. The stylised, over-saturated aesthetics of Dusty’s (Luke Newberry) Yorkshire hometown evokes the kind of retro nostalgia popularized in recent years by director Wes Anderson. Quintessential Northern settings including back-to-backs, seedy bars and run-down dog yards are paired with period costumes of flared jeans, adidas jackets and paisley shirts, to create a visually rich vintage feel.

Image Credit: Goldfinch Studios

Although the narrative is simplistic - a young boy moves back home after a stint in grammar school and find himself alienated from his working-class roots - lively characters and engaging dialogue ensure that the film doesn’t fall flat. There is in fact something refreshing about the film’s simplicity, its focus on the misunderstood Dusty and his relationship with the greyhound “Slapper” (named with the film’s characteristic Northern humour), and how this partnership enables Dusty’s reconciliation with the local community.

Image Credit: Goldfinch Studios

Playing the part of Dusty, Luke Newberry excels in his first leading role. Newberry poignantly portrays the sensitive and awkward Dusty, whose family regard him as strange due to his love of books and classical music. Newberry’s ability to carry the first half the film, in which Dusty’s sole companion is his greyhound, is undeniable proof of his talent. Yet, Newberry is no stranger to Hollywood, with roles in productions: In the Flesh (2013), From Darkness (2015) and Quartet (2012). His pedigree even includes a role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) in which he played Teddy Lupin (uncredited). Ben Batt (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011; Despite the Falling Snow, 2016) plays Dusty’s sleazy yet supportive gangster brother with the kind of panache that one expects from a 70’s crook. Other notable performances include Lesley Sharp’s (The Full Monty, 1997; Common As Muck, 1994-1997) portrayal of Dusty’s fiery mother, Lil, and Ian Heart’s role (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001; Finding Neverland, 2004) as Dusty’s pub-bound, cantankerous docker father. Genevieve Gaunt’s (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004) role as Chrissie, Dusty’s love interest, is a little flat and cliché, but perhaps suitable for the film’s simplistic narrative.

Image Credit: Goldfinch Studios
 
Because the film relies on (and indeed creates much humour) from Dusty’s inner thoughts through a voiceover, Morris also uses overlaid scenes in the form of postcard and Polaroid pictures in an attempt to make the onscreen dynamic more interesting. However, these are a little jarring and add a slightly amateurish feel to the film. Of course, the plot is nothing new and employs tried and tested formulae for coming of age films: first love, a makeover and a grand finale. Yet, Morris carries these narratives off with admirable warmth and tenacity. Dusty & Me is certainly no This is England (2006) and perhaps lacks the grittiness one would expect form the setting and subject. However, it is certainly an enjoyable family film. After all, who can resist an underdog?
 
Dusty & Me will be released in selected UK cinemas from 28 September and on VOD channels (including iTunes, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Sony, Vubiquity, BT and Sky Store) from 1 October.
 
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