Dionne Edwards debut feature is an assured and humane drama featuring incredibly strong central performances from its core trio of actors. Natey Jones starts as Travis, a South London DJ just released from prison and returning to his family and a shit job in a restaurant. His wife Candice (Alexandra Burke) is desperate to break out of her shitty jobs to star in a musical as Tina Turner. She welcomes her husband back, and they seem to have a mutually supportive and sex-positive relationship. The drama begins when we realise that Travis is attracted to the stunning red dress he has bought his wife for her audition. When his teenage daughter Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun), and then his wife catch him wearing it, he tries to laugh it off as a drunken joke. But we realise it's something far deeper, and soon so do they. Their reactions feel authentic and complicated. Candice wants to be supportive but also needs him to be her husband as he used to be - for her, there's a difference between role-play and questioning identity. Meanwhile Kenisha, who is also starting to come out as gay, feels that she has to defend her father from homophobic language and is on the verge of being excluded from her school. We realise Travis is a good man when he defends his daughter's acting out despise his internalised homophobia. But I couldn't help but feel that the final scene let the family and the audience off the hook a little too easily. Nonetheless, this is a great debut feature and I look forward to seeing what Dionne Edwards does not. It's also really refreshing to see contemporary real London on screen.
PRETTY RED DRESS has a running time of 110 minutes. It played the BFI London Film Festival 2022 and was released in the UK last month.