Writer / Director Dionne Edwards has crafted an intimate exploration of masculine and feminine in her new film Pretty Red Dress. To help do this Edwards has cast the perfect leading trio who command the screen and dive deep into each of their roles to deliver outstanding performances and an unforgettable film. Leading the way is Alexandra Burke (yes, that one!) from her X-Factor win, popstar status and West End performances, Burke is joined by Natey Jones as her partner Travis and their daughter Temilola Olatunbosun.
The film starts with Travis returning home from a stint in jail. His hardened criminal facade exudes masculinity with a hint of danger. Reuniting with his not-yet-wife Candice (Burke) who is a singer auditioning for the lead role in a Tina Turner musical. Together they are raising their teenage daughter Kenisha (Olatunbosun) who is entering her teenage years and finding out who she is.
The story manages to combine gender identity with a strong focus on masculine and feminine and the dynamic that this plays in our relationships, is told with such care and heart, it packs an emotional punch that will stay with you long after the film is over. Candice and Travis carry a non conventional relationship, their love life and intimate scenes are not your typical as a story like this would traditionally be. The hyper masculine Travis is often the sub and relishes in being dominated by Candice. This is in direct contrast to the persona he portrays amongst his family and friends.
Things take a turn when Travis buys Candice a fancy red dress for her audition and he becomes obsessed with it. The discovery of how he feels when he places the dress on is intensely awkward. We have long seen camp (generally white) men parade around in dresses in films and we are perfectly ok with it, seeing a hyper masculine black man in one, evokes a different reaction. Fortunately Edwards lets these scenes linger enough for you to become more accepting, and by the end of the film, it evokes the celebratory feeling intended from the beginning.
Watching Travis and Candice go on this journey of discovery to acceptance is the heart of this film. Travis’s confusion about his own identity and why this dress is evoking this emotion is a fascinating watch. While Candice initially struggles after the initial discovery, her concern for her daughters well-being and future are always at the forefront of her mind. This only fuels their love life and their dynamic constantly switches up during Travis’s self-discovery. Kenisha is also discovering her identity, unable to confirm the gender of her school crush to her parents for fear of judgement.
The film does suffer from being about 30 minutes too long, there is some bloat in the middle that takes you out of the world. That being said, it isn’t enough to completely ruin the moment that this film is having. The performances from the three main characters carry this part of the film and as a result, it doesn’t suffer from it.
It can easily be compared to 2005’s Kinky Boots, only this has a much grittier tone. What makes this film stand out on its own are the show-stopping musical performances from Burke. How they managed to pull off the budget to include Tina Turner songs, I will never understand. All of this pulls together an emotional and hard hitting look at gender, identity and the masculine and feminine through a black London lens. While I cannot comment on this too extensively being a white writer, it did open my eyes to a world and a struggle that I will never understand.
Pretty Red Dress is now playing as part of the 2023 Cunard British Film Festival.
You can book tickets here
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