'Tucked': Film Review | Outfest 2018

Courtesy of Outfest
Forgotten lion of British film gets to roar again.

Two drag performers form a father-son bond in this British film that won the audience award at Outfest.

A few stereotypes are shredded in Tucked, a British film that had its world premiere at Outfest and ended up winning the audience award as well as a jury prize for best international film. A movie about drag queens is not exactly novel; a similar film called Viva, set in Cuba, was in the foreign language Oscar competition a couple of years ago. But Jamie Patterson’s film works some fresh variations on a familiar theme and benefits from two splendid performances. An enterprising distributor could capitalize on those assets and bring the movie to the right markets.

Set primarily at a club in Brighton, England, the film introduces us to Jackie (Derren Nesbitt), who regales the club regulars with biting jabs at just about everyone. A newcomer to the club, a 21-year-old gay performer named Faith (Jordan Stephens), finds inspiration in Jackie’s fearlessness and seems eager to become a protege. Surprisingly, it turns out that Jackie is straight, with a wife and daughter in his past. He simply enjoys donning women’s clothes and letting the insults fly. Jackie’s marriage broke up because his wife couldn’t accept these contradictions in his personality.

The heart of the film is in the odd parent-child relationship that develops between Jackie and Faith. Although Jackie has some hard-won worldly wisdom for the younger performer, Faith also encourages Jackie to reach out to his long-lost daughter. The tale of two performers helping to heal each other may have been told before, but the details are fresh, and the actors shine.

Nesbitt has had a long career in British television, and he co-starred in a few films from the 1960s (including The Naked Runner with Frank Sinatra and Where Eagles Dare with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood). But many audiences will be unfamiliar with his work, so this pic will come as a revelation. Nesbitt is now 83, and he commands the screen. In his nightclub act and in some of his no-nonsense interaction with co-workers, Jackie can be acerbic and supremely self-aware, but he also demonstrates compassion in dealing with the younger man that never slips into sentimentality.

Stephens is better known as a singer and musician, but he conveys complete ease on camera, and he has an unforced rapport with Nesbitt. Even though Faith has been rejected by his family, Stephens convinces us that this young man has enough self-possession to find his own place in the world. Patterson must be given considerable credit for this young actor’s ease on camera. The interaction of these two unique characters gives the movie both wit and pathos.

There are, however, a few missteps in this appealing film. A scene in which Jackie visits his ex-wife’s grave might have squeaked by if it were brief and wordless, but the pic comes to a standstill for a maudlin monologue. Jackie’s illness is another stock element, but at least this is treated tersely. Patterson captures the atmosphere in the club and in the seaside town with considerable panache. The movie’s ending isn’t hard to predict, but we’ve become so drawn to the characters that the reconciliations still manage to be satisfying. If Tucked does nothing more than encourage viewers to seek out some of Nesbitt’s earlier films and television shows, it will have performed an invaluable service.

Production company: Belstone Pictures
Cast: Derren Nesbitt, Jordan Stephens, Steve Oram, April Pearson, Joss Porter
Director-screenwriter: Jamie Patterson
Producer: Finn Bruce
Executive producers: Richard Jackson, Dominic Collins, Mark Gee, Joanna Gee, Minna Mills, Peveril John, Robina Talbot-Ponsonby, Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby, Edward Fremlin-Key, Chris Malcamson, Agshin Badalov
Director of photography: Paul O’Callaghan
Production designer: Laura Little
Costume designer: Lucy Upton Prowse
Editor: David Fricker

80 minutes