The Pass – London Film Festival 2016

the-pass-1‘The world is full of people, who are pretending to be something they’re not.’

The roar of a jam-packed stadium as excitable spectators leap to their feet, cheering and chanting your name. Spoilt for choice as adoring sponsors look to capitalise on your rising popularity and the media clamour for worthy quotes and compelling stories. Yet in a glitzy and competitive world where transfer fees and player wages are escalating at an obscene rate, how much does it truly cost you to live an authentic life?

The collective dilemma faced by Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene’s aspiring academy stars, as their pitch-perfect physiques are juxtaposed with the inner emotional angst that contorts and consumes them, threatening to derail the achievement of their respective sporting dreams. Originally a critically acclaimed John Donnelly creation for the stage, Ben A Williams’ directorial debut The Pass is a fascinating and frank twist on the coming-of-age narrative trajectory, as he looks to tap into football’s greatest taboo.

Retaining its theatrical three-act structure, we are immediately met by playful hyper-masculine sparring between Ade (Kene) and Jason (Tovey) at the tender age of 19, contained within a stylish hotel room in the heart of Romania. Bonding over their excitement of being signed to the first team. Torn apart at the prospect of being benched for a high stakes Champions League game.

In their pursuit to oppress each other with the musk of machismo and pampered posturing intoxicating and dominating the frame, underneath lies repressed thoughts desperately seeking out an ideal opening, especially for Jason as the ramifications of one intense exchange unfold over a tumultuous decade.

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The power of The Pass as it dissects the horrific homophobia that remains apparent in football, lies in its provocation and ambiguity. Its five-year leaps representing the seedy scrutiny (Lisa McGrillis’ dancer Lyndsey a compelling second-act addition) that has manifested into the current climate, as the saturation of technology and social media takes twisted pleasure in picking apart one’s public persona and seeking an opportunity to tarnish one’s livelihood.

Yet in a time where championing gay men and women across the sporting spectrum, as they represent their teams and countries is becoming all the more common elsewhere. It presents a plethora of questions. What is the fundamental issue that is holding any member of the Premier League elite back from coming out in the perceived prime of their career? Is it the fear of fans mocking their every movement or appearance? The notoriety of the press in fabricating details? The lack of faith in the authorities to create a safe environment? Are they themselves still wrongly programmed into thinking that being gay is a severe emasculation of their character in such a competitive world?

The jarring behaviour and banter of Russell Tovey as Jason is a heartbreaking showcase of the mental strain and conflict that regardless of the profession you find yourself in, living with such a secret can have. The stifling, claustrophobic direction from Williams that whilst it is occasionally stilted in its aesthetic as it looks to establish its own cinematic identity, compliments the stunning and simmering subtlety he brings to the role. Arinze Kene’s Ade is equally impressive, as his charismatic beginnings soon subside into his character being a far more sensitive soul, grappling with the complexities of his own sexuality and questioning Jason’s motivations to remain in contact with him.

Director Williams the midfield maestro pulling the strings. Tovey and Kene the front two hitting the back of the net in clinical fashion. The Pass’ emotional attack will leave you begging for a solid defence. A truly outstanding and vital piece of work.

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