Film Review: DUSTY AND ME

Luke Newberry and Ben Batt in Dusty and Me (2016)

Luke Newberry as Dusty and Ben Batt as Little Eddie in DUSTY AND ME.

Funny, light-hearted and deliciously heart-warming, DUSTY AND ME is an endearing coming-of-age tale about the bond between a boy and his dog

After a decade-long hiatus, award-winning director Betsan Morris Evans makes a welcome return to the big screen with family comedy DUSTY AND ME, a heart-warming tale about a boy and his dog.

Set in 1970s Yorkshire, DUSTY AND ME tells the tale of Derek ‘Dusty’ Springfield (Luke Newberry), an 18-year-old misfit who returns to his Leeds home after five years at Oxbridge Public School on a scholarship. Life at home is awkward for the brainy lad whose working-class family who can’t relate to his academic talent. Whilst waiting for the exam results he hopes will let him escape, Dusty befriends a lightning fast Greyhound, comically named Slapper by his older brother, and the two become inseparable. But when two bumbling thieves attempt to kidnap Slapper, Dusty must do all he can to protect her with the help of his schoolboy crush Chrissie (Genevieve Gaunt).

Luke Newberry and Genevieve Gaunt in Dusty and Me (2016)

Luke Newberry as Dusty and Genevieve Gaunt as Chrissie in DUSTY AND ME

Funny, light-hearted and incredibly heart-warming, DUSTY AND ME is an endearing coming-of-age tale about a bond between a boy and his dog. Although the plot is nothing new, director Morris Evans successfully mixes tongue-in-cheek humour with lively characters to paint an entertaining picture of 1970’s Northern life. The comedy is well-timed and the race sequences well shot. Morris Evans’ quirky direction and stylised shots also create a rich vintage feel, evoking a kind of retro nostalgia.

Much of the film’s success lies in BAFTA nominee Luke Newberry’s performance as Dusty, the sensitive and awkward teenager with no-one to love or trust until Slapper comes along. Newberry pretty much carries the first half the film on his own with the greyhound acting as his sole companion, demonstrating his undeniable talent as a rising young star. Newberry is matched by the charm and likeability of Genevieve Gaunt as Chrissie, who makes the most of her otherwise flat and clichéd character by showing a hint of steel beneath Chrissie’s sweetness which makes her instantly likeable.

Elsewhere Iain Glen provides plenty of comic entertainment as dog trainer Mickey, as does Ian Hart as Derek’s father Big Eddie, a doc-yard worker on long-term sick who spends most of the time in the pub, and Ben Batt as Dusty’s sleazy yet supportive gangster elder brother Little Eddie. Even Slapper, despite the awful name, is a beautiful Greyhound with a face for the big screen.

Genevieve Gaunt and Iain Glen in Dusty and Me (2016)

Genevieve Gaunt as Chrissie, Iain Glen as Mickey and Luke Newberry as Dusty in DUSTY AND ME.

Yet, despite its likeable narrative (its themes of class, ambition and community spirit hark back to fellow British comedies like THE FULL MONTY and BILLY ELLIOTT), Dusty’s character is never developed fully and his strained relationship with his father feels a little underplayed.

The villains of the piece, who kidnap Slapper to use for their own purposes, also feel like more of a comedic plot filler than anything of real purpose. It is where Rob Isted’s writing falls down slightly as the film loses some of its warmth and sincerity in favour of the silly and obvious.

That said, there is something refreshing about the film’s simplicity and while on the surface DUSTY AND ME is a film about a boy and his dog, it’s also about class, ambition and the importance of family. After all, who can resist an underdog?

4 out of 5 stars

DUSTY AND ME is released in selected UK cinemas from 28th September and on VoD from 1st October 2018.