Pretty Red Dress

15¦ Blu-ray

When it comes to British black cinema, there’s a disappointing tendency to not only rely on tired clichés, such as gang, drugs and crime culture, but to reinforce them.

For her feature-length debut, writer and director Dionne Edwards thankfully ignores all of the above for her refreshingly original take on a black family’s life.

boom reviews Pretty Red Dress
Screw Wakanda, South London forever!

After doing a one year stretch in prison, Travis (Natey Jones) is returning to his family in South London. His daughter Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun) is attending secondary school, whilst his wife Candice (Alexandra Burke) works in a supermarket. But not only does she have aspirations to be a stage performer, she has the talent to back it up too.

Travis has once again to find his place again, within his own family and his community. So he goes out looking for work, so he can help provide for his wife and daughter.

But Travis is also preoccupied with a passion, a secret passion, which no one knows about, quite understandably, because if it was ever made public, it would ridicule not only himself but also his family. But as he soon discovers, it’s the kind of secret that isn’t easily suppressed.

boom reviews Pretty Red Dress
And the winner is...

Although it’s a clichéd thing to say, Edward’s film is one about a family on a journey. Actually, a number of journeys, as not only is every member of the family on their own personal one, they also find themselves on a collective one too.

At the epicentre of it all however is Candice; she finds herself at that other cliché, the crossroads of her life, where it’s almost make or break time as far as her performing career is concerned. It is a pivotal role, one that Burke, making her acting debut, excels at. She’s already proven that she can handle the spotlight, having won 2008’s The X Factor and then going on to have a successful singing career, but she manages to shine for her acting talents here. Considering she’s used to performing, as she does impressively here too as she goes through the stages of auditioning for a Tina Turner musical which sees her belt out a number of classic tunes, she also manages to give a natural and realistic turn as a mother and wife.

And then there’s Jones, who bravely throws caution to the wind as a young black man trying to come to terms with his masculinity, by exploring cross-dressing. It’s certainly a unique role for an actor, and Jones embraces it with real courage and confidence. And there’s no denying it, he looks pretty good in a dress too.

And on top of that, you have their young daughter, brilliantly played by the Olatunbosun, who is struggling with her own sexuality.

Despite all the quirky side steps, at the heart of Edwards’ film is a family drama. A family that, like any other when confronted with obstacles and issues, has to find a way of dealing with them.

It marks an impressive debut for Edwards, on both the writing and directing front, as she teases some sharp and sassy performances from her cast, as well explores some original themes, and still manages to be highly engaging and entertaining.

Much like the titular garment itself, this is a film you won’t be able to take your eyes off of.

we give this four out of five