sat 13/04/2024

Bolan's Shoes review - good-natured film about the healing power of a pop idol | reviews, news & interviews

Bolan's Shoes review - good-natured film about the healing power of a pop idol

Bolan's Shoes review - good-natured film about the healing power of a pop idol

Leanne Best and Timothy Spall excel as troubled ageing glam-rockers

Lost in the past: Leanne Best as vicar's wife PennyBuffalo Dragon Film

Older fans of T Rex will get pleasure from hearing the band’s tracks and reliving some of the buzz of being a dino-rocker, but, despite the title, this isn’t strictly a fan film. Describing what kind of film it is, though, would involve a serious spoiler, which points to its wonky narrative ambitions. It expends a lot of screen time building up to an unsurprising reveal (more on that below).

The film opens with a charabanc of children from a Liverpool care home on an outing to a T Rex gig in Manchester in 1976. We meet some of them en route to the concert, all with sparkly face paint and glam accessories – a pretty girl with long curly hair in a top hat decorated with roses; her friend who’s a Scouser with the accent and gnarly vocabulary to prove it; and this girl’s brother, Jimmy, who is bullied incessantly for liking to wear makeup. The bullies, as tradition demands, sit at the back of the coach. 

What emerges is a sad story of the taint of guilt and whether it’s possible for it to be expunged

After the concert, a contact of the home’s chaplain takes them backstage, where numerous pairs of Marc Bolan’s signature gilded shoes are lined up. The little Liverpudlian girl lags behind, staring at them. Later we learn that Bolan donated the shoes to the children’s home as a form of condolence. Because, on the way home, the driver is fatally distracted by a firework being lit in the back seat – Jimmy having been bullied into lighting it  – and the coach veers off the road. A quick montage shows us the children being treated in hospital, while Jimmy waits outside in a corridor. Off-screen somebody audibly flatlines. 

The narrative now unexpectedly jumps forward by what turns out to be several decades, to a shop called Penny’s Cakes, where a woman (Leanne Best) with long curly hair is putting the final touches to a T Rex tribute cake iced with the image of a platform shoe. This will go on an annual outing “off-island” to celebrate Bolan’s birthday (a shot of the Menai bridge tells us Penny’s cake shop is on Anglesey). As the group relax and release two doves, a strange bearded man in a top hat arrives with what look like long wands and proceeds to produce giant wobbling bubbles. 

This man turns out, under his straggling long hair and beard, to be Timothy Spall (pictured below), whose speciality now seems to be to transform his new slimline self into somebody unrecognisable. After his standout performance as a doomed repressed gay man in the BBC’s The Sixth Commandment, here he is as a sweet-faced old glam-rocker whose expressions are underscored by some kind of unknown pain. 

Suddenly the bubble man starts having a fit. And back at the vicarage where she lives with her kindly husband (Mark Lewis Jones), Penny, too, is in difficulties, ranting and screaming in her room. Outside on the lawn lies one of the Bolan shoes she has presumably thrown there. 

The narrative continues to zigzag via flashbacks interlaced with the modern-day strand. We see Penny at a church event full of Welsh-speaking vicars’ wives, where she headbutts a mirror in the loo, then flees to Liverpool, and from there to Bolan’s crash site in Barnes, a tree covered in memorabilia. Then she’s off to Oxford Street to buy new clothes and makeup and emerges with short brown hair and a Liverpool accent. 

Somebody is shadowing her moves and leaves a bag for her at her hotel's reception desk. It has a note inside. The action then moves to a camper van, where the bubble man is living, and the plot begins to thicken. 

Timothy Spall as Jimmy in Bolan's ShoesWhat emerges is a sad story of the taint of guilt and whether it’s possible for it to be expunged. Penny’s vicar husband is in the business of foregiveness, as he laconically points out to her. But can Penny and the bubble man – who turns out to be Jimmy, the boy who lit the firework on the coach, now diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic – survive the guilty secrets in their past that are driving them to madness and thoughts of suicide? 

This is a gentle film, written and directed with obvious great affection for its subject by Ian Puleston-Davies and performed with total commitment by its cast. Best creates a poignant and sparky character out of Penny, and Spall’s Jimmy is a wonder: he makes himself seem so frail, you worry that a gust of wind will blow him away. There’s also a striking cameo from Mathew Horne, as a creep who turns up at the camper van with partying friends in tow and verbally menaces Jimmy like a thug from a Pinter play.

Ultimately, though, the drama of the scenario seeps away as the film reaches its rather underwhelming climax: Penny’s secrets spill out and the cause of her psychological distress is revealed. Her husband sits impassively, hardly reacting as she allows herself to tell the truth; afterwards he admits he isn’t that surprised, he had known all along something significant was wrong. Most viewers will feel the same. We are left with the emotional core of this sweet-natured film, which asserts the power of music to bring people together, graced with an exquisite performance by Timothy Spall.

Spall makes himself seem so frail, you worry that a gust of wind will blow him away

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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