Pretty Red Dress


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Natey Jones in Pretty Red Dress
"Resisting familiar narrative routes, Dionne Edwards’ film gets up close and personal with a family in a state of flux." | Photo: Courtesy of London Film Festival

It goes without saying that life in prison is tough on almost everyone, but for some people, it creates additional layers of strain. Few environments are so narrowly focused around restrictive ideas of gender. To survive in prison, a man has to give the impression of flawless, unimpeachable masculinity. The pressure this puts on men who are naturally inclined to express themselves in different ways can be overwhelming.

When we meet him, Travis (Natey Jones) has just left prison. He’s picked up by his partner, Candice (Alexandra Burke), who is thrilled that they’re together again and wants to celebrate. He calls his mum, who is determined to throw a party for him. He really just wants to chill out. Then there is teenage daughter Kanisha (Temilola Olatunbosun) to deal with. Candice has been finding her increasingly difficult to deal with and wants him to lay down the law. He tries, but it’s not something he’s well suited to.

Under different pressures now, Travis tries to get his life together. Candice, a singer, has a big audition coming up – the opportunity to play Tina Turner in a new musical – and when she falls in love with a pretty red dress in a charity shop window, he buys it for her, finding a job in order to pay for it. Candice is thrilled and it’s clear that it helps, boosting her confidence and catching the eye of the producers, its shimmer highlighting her natural energy as she launches into River Deep, Mountain High. Everything seems to be going well – but Travis is drawn to the dress in a similar way, and neither Candice nor the other people around him are remotely ready for that.

Resisting familiar narrative routes, Dionne Edwards’ film gets up close and personal with a family in a state of flux. Anxious to change his life and make a break with his troubled past, yet struggling under the weight of others’ expectations and – as a straight man who still identifies very much as a man – lacking any obvious source of social support, Travis strives to be all things to all people when it’s clear that he’s on the brink of falling apart. Candice is struggling to balance her career with motherhood and is pushing too hard with both, afraid of compromise, confused as to why her daughter is so different from her and so uninterested in the things she loves. There’s a reason for that, and Kanisha also has big issues to deal with – though comfortable with who she is, she’s not yet ready to deal with the way other people might react to it.

The balance of power continually shifts within the family unit as its member move towards and away from one another. Obfuscations and small lies intended to keep the peace result in conflict down the road. Young as she is, Kanisha belongs to a world which handles such things differently, but discovers that too much honesty can also lead to trouble. Her attitude seems to point the way towards a more accepting future, but her parents need to accept themselves before they can resolve their issues with one another.

The performances are carefully judged, Olatunbosun particularly impressive. Edwards directs with assurance. Through it all, the dress glitters and beguiles like the promise of a better life. It’s not too pretty – it has to remain within reach of the characters’ world, its promise seeming achievable – but ultimately, it will take more than money to earn it.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2023
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Trouble brews for a man on his release from jail and only worsens after he buys his girlfriend a dream dress.
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Director: Dionne Edwards

Writer: Dionne Edwards

Starring: Natey Jones, Alexandra Burke, Eliot Sumner, Ben Caplan, Nicholas Bishop, James McNicholas, Thomas Grant, Edwin De La Renta, Lee Byford, Michael Junior Onafowokan, Basit Ayanwusi, Maria Almeida, Emeka Sesay, Divarni A Groce-Balogun, Baba Oyejide

Year: 2022

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: UK


London 2022

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