Almost six decades are playing Dirk Bogarde’s gay lawyer in Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961), 83-year-old Derren Nesbitt gives a career-defining performance as veteran drag queen Jackie. The ageing stand-up comedian drag queen is still performing a stale stand routine in a Brighton gay bar when he finds out he has terminal cancer.
Jackie takes Faith (Jordan Stephens, one half of hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks), a young drag queen, under her wing when she starts working at the same bar. The inexperienced queen had been sleeping in her car, starting fights with homophobes on the street and arguing with her co-workers. Director and writer Jamie Patterson clearly understands the community depicted and shoots Brighton with a suitably kitschy and slightly seedy glamour.
Faith is non-binary, assigned male at birth, they frequently walk around in gender-bending outfits and makeup. Jackie (real name Jack) is straight, with a wife and daughter in his past. He simply enjoys putting on women’s clothing and using his acid wit to perform stand up comedy sets. The film touches on the exploration of gender and sexuality but could have done so much more with it. The topics of gender, sexual fluidity and living non-binary have daily think pieces written about them, TV magazine shows debating their merit and people fired for using the wrong terminology yet the film glazes over it. There is clearly a difference in thinking between generation regarding sex, gender and clothes but Tucked wastes the opportunity to note it.
At the heart of this narrative is the surrogate parent-child relationship between Faith and Jack. Predictably, despite Jack’s many years of experience and hard-won wisdom, it’s the 21-year-old Faith who has the lessons to teach. He encourages Jack to reach out to his long-lost daughter and rebuild the bridge he once burned. Their friendship evolves at a gentle yet even pace, even if the realism sometimes tips into the comedically absurd, especially when they visit a bemused drug dealer (Steve Oram) to purchase cocaine (a bucket list entry for Jack). The tale of an old jaded performer and a young naïve one finding each other and healing their personal traumas is not a fresh one, but the rich performances and believable setting makes Tucked shine.
Nesbitt’s performance is extraordinary and completely believable, allowing the camera to zoom in on his foundation caked face and naked body in the shower. The long scenes where drag queen Jackie Collins performs mildly off-colour jokes in front of middle-aged couples in a dimly-lit bar feel like a fly on the wall documentary rather than a scripted film. If you are a regular in these establishments, you will likely recognise it. Jack/Jackie is a more complex character than you might expect, rounded and well written not once does he fall into the clichés expected of on-screen drag queens. Tucked does a decent job of separating the onstage persona and the man behind the beehive and lipstick. Faith feels a little under-baked, a tool for Jackie to feel guilty for abandoning her now-adult daughter (Skin’s April Pearson), with no personal journey to go on themselves.
The ticking time bomb of death is very well dealt with, sensitive but never lachrymose. Jack/ Jackie faces death with the same level of rebellion as he had lived most of his life with. There are ideas in Tucked that are close to being life-affirming and inspiration in the realistic way of looking at life’s difficulties, the aging process and death.
Set in writer/director Jamie Patterson’s home town of Brighton, Tucked is a poignant and moving study of reconciliation and acceptance. Towards the end, it dips too much into maudlin and sentimentality, but it works because these characters feel so real. Jack’s visit to his ex-wife’s grave should have been briefer and the scene in the strip club feels a little overwritten. The movie’s ending isn’t hard to predict. but it’s satisfying because you’ve really grown to love these characters.
Tucked could have been oversentimental in the wrong hand, but the natural dialogue and understated performances give audiences a sharp sense of the real people beneath the personas and make us feel included in their community.
TUCKED IS RELEASED ON DVD & DIGITAL HD BY BULLDOG DISTRIBUTION ON MONDAY 9th SEPTEMBER