Brace yourselves boys: Russel Tovey is practically semi-naked for most of this film and he looks extra delicious, playing a footballer. Consider yourselves teased but please don’t lose sight of what’s important here – come for the eye candy, stay for the poignant message. The Pass is in fact the utmost example of thoroughly justified “exposed meat” that serves storytelling purposes rather than just being exploited as money-grabbing gratuitousness.
Adapted by John Donnelly from his own stage play which also starred the beloved British actor and had a rather successful run in the West End, this screen version directed by Ben A. Williams doesn’t try to hide the nature of its source material but actually embraces it and makes it one of its aesthetic strengths.
The Pass spans 15 years through the rise and fall of a closeted footballer: it starts off on the cusp of his career breakthrough, follows him across the glory period where his personal troubles threaten to compromise his success and eventually, as the past catches up with him, finds him bound to face the consequences of his life choices.
Three acts are set in three different hotel rooms that inevitably symbolise the closet Jason (Tovey) is trapped in over the years, as a result of the compromise he made with his own ambition and with the bleak reality of a sport where coming out is not an option, if you want to have a career.
In the first chapter we find Jason with his best mate and hotel roomie Ade (Arinze Kene), fresh off their football club’s academy, on the eve of their first Champions’ League match. It’s a make-it-or-break-it situation for both boys since chances to get noticed and earn a steady spot in the team, let alone the beginning of a proper career, don’t come that often.
Neither of them seems able to settle down for a good night sleep given what’s at stake the following day and they wind up spending the night teasing each other and blowing off some steam in typical “boys will be boys” fashion – wrestling, yelling, dancing and playing around whilst just in their underwear the whole time. The sexual tension is evident from the first frame but it takes the end of act one to explode and change these two friends’ relationships forever.
The film’s title alludes to what happened that night but also refers to a pivotal pass during the eponymous Champions’ League game, which will take the two boys’ lives and careers in opposite directions. However, any further plot details would ruin the emotional impact this powerful story will have on you by the time the screen fades to black.
If you’re already familiar with the play, you won’t be left disappointed by this on-screen translation which preserves the powerful text without ever feeling verbose. Whilst if you’re new to these characters and their emotional struggles, be ready to get punched in the guts by the gripping psychodrama they’ll be facing before your eyes.
The Pass is a poignant and thought-provoking look at a reality, which is in dire need of positive change. It’s a rather hot topic at the moment and it’s still unclear how long it will take for things to get any better, despite a recent survey revealing that the majority of football fans would be ok with the possibility of their favourite players coming out.
Both actors are excellent at embodying their characters’ hopes and fears but it’s Tovey who has the hardest job and the most complex range to pull off. He does so magnificently and he makes us understand the nature of his character’s pain and the reasons behind his actions. As a result we care about him not just when it’s easy to empathize with Jason’s struggles but especially when the tormented footballer lets the darkness take over, leaning towards almost villainous territory. It’s one of the finest performances of the year, which consolidates Tovey as one of Britain’s most talented thespians.
Despite the recognisable structure of its source material, The Pass is a lucid and harrowing portrayal of homophobia in football that couldn’t ring any more true. Some impatient viewers might suffer coping with the stage origins of a story that takes place entirely in hotel rooms but this is to the film’s advantage and it’s the best choice the filmmakers could’ve made to adapt the material for the screen. Ben A. Williams uses the enclosed space to perfectly capture the sense of claustrophobia experienced by the protagonist throughout his life and he delivers a poignant and essential film that demands to be seen by the widest possible audience and hopefully will reach those who need to open their minds on such a delicate topic.