Year:  2022

Director:  Dionne Edwards

Release:  2-28 November, 2023

Running time: 110 minutes

Worth: $14.00
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Natey Jones, Alexandra Burke, Temilola Olatunbosun

… a feel-good story in the vein of Pride, Kinky Boots or Billy Elliot …

Pretty Red Dress is a moving tale of longing and self-expression with its heart on its sleeve and soul in its soundtrack. Set in South London, we meet Travis (Natey Jones) on the day he’s paroled after a stint in prison for dealing. Welcomed home with open arms by his partner Candice (Alexandra Burke, past X Factor winner and current musical theatre darling), Travis sheds the grey confines of prison life and begins to rediscover parts of himself he’d been keeping hidden. When Candice lands a breakthrough audition to play Tina Turner on the West End, Travis splurges on a gift: a stunning little red dress that embodies the role of a lifetime for Candice, and for Travis, a temptation too alluring to ignore.

The plot is simple but satisfying, a journey of self-discovery that challenges boundaries of contemporary masculinity, played with entrancing vulnerability by Jones, who moves comfortably between South London tough boy to sultry and unguarded as Travis dons his satin and lace.

As a feature debut for writer-director Dionne Edwards, the film is thoughtful and polished, with exceptional camerawork. The upbeat soundtrack, a blend of classic pop and rhythm and blues is woven through the scenes in a naturalistic way, often with Candice singing softly to herself from the next room as the camera lingers on a contemplative Travis, or their feisty teen daughter Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun), who struggles with her own issues of identity and sexuality. The contrast between father and daughter as they each come into their own is striking, Kenisha acting out and confrontational where Travis is hesitant and secretive, and yet both are fearful of losing Candice’s love and approval as they learn to embrace their authentic selves.

Wearing sensuality on the surface, Pretty Red Dress is an unravelling thread of secrets and desire, tangling each member of Travis’s family in knots before it ultimately ties itself up in a neat little bow. The satisfying conclusion is not out of line with the style of film Edwards is emulating here, a feel-good story in the vein of Pride, Kinky Boots or Billy Elliot, however the deeper issues of gender identity and self-realisation lose something of their substance in the exchange. In a film about presentation and what it means to perform, the cast are phenomenal as a whole, each understanding the nuance of their roles and bringing a level of depth that makes each character’s storyline worthy of the spotlight.