Being British, I am not sure why it is that I have so much difficulty pinning down exactly what makes a British film so essentially, er… British. I fling around, trying to find the words to describe the essence that makes them instantly recogniseable. ‘Small’ springs to mind, as does, ‘grey’ and ‘grim’ but that would be to overlook the humour that often runs though them and to make it sound like they are not films I enjoy.
Maybe American films are just easier on the eye. The other night as we were channel surfing, I spotted the film, Kinky Boots was on. The TV network probably decided to air it because the musical has been playing in Melbourne and has just transferred to Sydney. The show’s arrival in Australia was announced last year and I had a mad thought that I would be able to see it while we were over in Melbourne on a work thing but (a) that would have been impossible given the nature of the work and (b) it opened just after we left.
I remember seeing the film when it first came out, but had remembered it as being older than it was, possible because I confused the release date with the era in which it is set. It is firmly in the tradition of predecessors like Brassed Off or The Full Monty, being set in a working class environment populated by people living their small lives day to day who all dream of a better life while facing the stark reality that they will probably die 10 miles from where they are born – if they are lucky.
Unlike theses two films, though its story is based on real life events. A son, who inherits his father’s failing shoe factory, attempts to save it by changing its product line from sensible brogues to specialist footwear that can be worn by drag queens.
So we have a fight for survival, a fish out of water – as ‘Lola’ the drag queen moves into the conservative and conventional town to help with the shoe design, and of course along with that issues of race, identity and prejudice thrown in for good measure. Naturally on top of that, to help box office sales, there is a love story.
When I think of Kinky Boots through the lens of time, I have a sort of joyous image of tall men in fabulous frocks wearing wigs and singing, but of course most of the film is about a series of struggles and failures until, of course the final push for the one chance of success at the end.
As I watched Nick Frost (who I had completely forgotten was in it) hunch over some weird bit of commercial machinery that did something to leather, I wondered perhaps is that is one of the reasons ‘grim’ came to mind. Nick Frost is a brilliant comic actor, but he is definitely not Goldie Hawn in Swingshift. Is it because the sun shines more in Amercia that things just seem a little less depressing? Or is it just that for me, familiarity breeds contempt?
The other actor that I had not realised was in it was Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is now very well known – and who last I saw in Dr Strange. The whole cast, in fact, is outstanding and even though the plot line is predictable, the sub-plots recogniseable and the thematic concerns depressingly familiar (though hopefully less so twelve years down the track) the fact that I sat through it on a commercial channel which peppered its run time with adverts that almost double its length is testament to how much i enjoyed watching it again. The film is still hugely enjoyable with some stand-out performances and that is definitely what helps to give Kinky Boots its kick.