Pretty Red Dress  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Dionne Edwards, UK, 2022, 110 mins

Cast:  Alexandra Burke, Natey Jones, Temilola Olatunbosun

Review by Carol Allen

This is a very strong human story from debut director Dionne Edwards on an unusual theme with a lot packed into it.

The pretty red dress of the title is spotted by Candice (Alexandra Burke), shortly before she’s about to audition for the role of singer Tina Turner in the West End.   Her partner Travis (Natey Jones) buys it for her.  But he’s just out of prison and broke and in order to pay for it takes the menial dishwasher job offered to him by his bossy, restaurant owner brother Clive (Rolan Bell).

Travis then becomes fascinated by the dress.  This most blokeish looking of blokes cannot resist its seduction.   He has to try it on, to experiment with wearing it and in doing so, discovers a whole new side to  himself.  Inevitably his secret is revealed to his family.  When his macho frame rips the dress, Candace’s daughter Kenisha (good performance from young newcomer Temilola Olatunbosun) takes the blame. 

Then later Candice discovers Travis’s secret and struggles with this new side to the man she loves.  In addition she’s concerned about Kenisha’s close friendship with her female schoolfriend.  And then there’s her career.  She keeps getting called back for further auditions but will she get the role?

The film tackles head on subject matter that is largely taboo in the black community and gives an interesting insight into that society without preaching or judgement.  The portrayal of Travis in a situation so in conflict with how black men in particular view masculinity is very delicately handled.   The nearest we get to an understanding of his penchant is when he tells Kenisha “I’m not gay. I just like to be pretty sometimes.”  

Then there’s all the matter of Kenisha’s emergent sexual preference – another taboo – and the  film also tackles other family conflicts and sibling rivalries in an explosive birthday party scene.

The musical element is an important part of the story and Strictly Come Dancing winner Burke is a powerhouse in her musical audition numbers.  The music never though takes over from the main focus of the film.   There is though one somewhat confusing element.  The musical side gets off to a lively start with a Supremes style number whose lead singer rather confusingly we assume to be the star of the film. She isn’t.  Turns out, we discover much later, she’s Candace’s rival for that coveted West End role.   It’s an unnecessary complication in an otherwise perfect piece of story telling