Russell Tovey scores as a gay footballer in this adaptation of John Donnelly's stage play
Russell Tovey is exceptionally good in director Ben A Williams's intensely dramatic debut feature, the first that explores the implications of being gay in the resolutely homophobic culture of Premier League football and its fandom. Tovey plays Jason, who we meet as a teenager sharing a hotel room in Romania with 'bruvver' and teammate Ade (Arinzé Kene, also impressive). After years in the academy together it's the night before their first team debut. Excitement and high spirits suddenly lead to a kiss, a moment that powerfully affects the courses of their lives and careers. The title, by the way, refers not only to the clinch but also to a pivotal moment in the game that defines their characters and destinies.
Ten years are covered across three acts, each in a hotel room, each five years apart. The second, set in London in 2011, sees Jason – now a star at his peak, with fame, wealth, a wife and children – entertain a lap dancer with a video camera in her bag and a sneaky agenda. In a Manchester suite in 2016, the past-his-best Jason and Ade are reunited for a searing session of game playing and truth telling.
If the structure sounds theatrical, it is, the screenplay adapted by John Donnelly from his play, originally staged at London's Royal Court Theatre (Donnelly also wrote a couple of episodes of the terrifically bonkers and paranoiac TV series Utopia). There is nothing wrong with that – the two and three-hander scenes are sufficiently full of incident and introspection that there is no need to pad the film out with scenes on the pitch, in the stands, on the streets, or in the media. Occasional conversations involving football itself do feel routine and border on tedious. Tovey's Jason is a selfish, bullying braggart but his fits of self-awareness, of acknowledging betrayal and loss, and of conveying the strain and despair that comes from living a lie as an alpha male are extremely expressive and affecting. Well played, gents.
Selected release from Fri 9 Dec.