Bolan’s Shoes

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Bolan's Shoes
dir-scr Ian Puleston-Davies
prd Dean Fisher, Terri Dwyer
with Timothy Spall, Leanne Best, Mark Lewis Jones, Dyfan Dwyfor, Isaac, Eden Beach, Amelia Rose Smith, Louis Emerick, Mathew Horne, Holli Dempsey, Andrew Lancel, Sion Tudor Owen
release UK 15.Sep.23
23/UK 1h37

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Full of emotion and humour, including a whole library of T.Rex songs, this British melodrama has an engaging kick to it. But writer-director Ian Puleston-Davies indulges in relentlessly elusive storytelling, jarringly cutting between events while holding back key details to reveal later. This prevents the audience from being able to engage with the film fully. Even so, the production values are strong, and the performances are involving and nuanced.
Lifelong T.Rex fan Penny (Best) is celebrating what would be Marc Bolan's 75th birthday with fellow fan Steffan (Dwyfor). This rekindles memories of a fateful trip her children's home took to see T.Rex in concert back in their heyday, and the bus crash on the way home that claimed the life of her best friend. And now a woolly eccentric (Spall) at Bolan's memorial looks familiar. Indeed, he's Jimmy, her friend's badly bullied brother, who has been diagnosed with bipolar. As Penny reconnects with him, she is forced to grapple with her own dark secret.
Rather a lot of misery circles around these characters, from fatal car crashes to violence and nasty abuse. Nicely played flashbacks depict the earlier events as Penny (Beach), Sadie (Smith) and Jimmy (Lancel-Watkinson) joyously attend the concert, claiming a souvenir pair of glittery platform shoes from backstage. Then they face the horrible aftermath. Present-day scenes move between northern Wales, London and Liverpool. And all of this is depicted in an infuriating filmmaking style that obscures information with camerawork and sound mixing, continually refusing to connect the dots until ready to drop yet another surprising truth bomb.

Best anchors the film with a beautifully controlled performance as a middle-aged woman whose entire life was upended by a tragedy in childhood, and she now has to come to terms with several rather momentous things she did to survive. Her story becomes more extraordinary with each new piece of information, which makes the performance revelatory. And she develops a nice rapport with Spall's beautifully internalised turn as the damaged Jimmy. As her husband, Jones has some lovely understated moments of his own.

If you can be patient with the storytelling, there's a very nice message lurking deep inside the film about truth and reconciliation, and it would have carried an even more intense kick if the narrative had been structured to bring the audience in rather than hold us at arm's length. Thankfully, the movie's worth seeing for the actors and the depth of feeling they pour into their roles. And of course the music is pure magic.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 14.Sep.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall