You likely haven’t heard of director Jamie Patterson before, but at just 32 years old he’s already built up an eclectic filmography. Largely utilising the same cast and set within his hometown of Brighton, he’s dabbled in everything from horror to romantic comedies – churning films out at a pace that only Takashi Miike can match in terms of sheer work ethic. Tucked is his tenth film, with two further features already completed, and two more films in various stages of post production. But in the best way possible, it still feels like a debut effort. His film has an earnest working class grit, treading familiar narrative waters but remaining endearing due to its unpolished nature.
Pitched somewhere between a behind the scenes look at downtrodden cabaret acts previously seen in a film like The Full Monty, and a high camp tale of an ageing drag queen reminiscent of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Tucked feels like a throwback to a very specific kind of film reliably churned out by the British film industry in the mid to late nineties. Whereas the rest of the world spent the latter half of that decade poorly imitating Quentin Tarantino, British filmmakers were more focused on creating the next Full Monty, trying to mimic its internationally successful formula to no avail. It’s been a while since a film in the same vein, that marries broad, double entendre laden humour with an underlying sense of melancholy, has made its way to British cinema screens – and Tucked feels very distinctively like a throwback to the most successful of those efforts.
Derren Nesbitt stars as Jackie, a 74 year old drag queen working at a rundown cabaret club in Brighton. Estranged from his daughter after refusing to attend his wife’s funeral a decade earlier, he’s now lonely – and when he’s diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that gives him only seven weeks to live, he has nobody to turn to. Then, one evening at the club, a 21 year old singer named Faith (Jordan Stephens, of Rizzle Kicks fame) shows up. Equally estranged from family and living out of her car, Jackie realises that he needs to give her a home, and as thanks, Faith takes it upon herself to try reconnect Jackie to a family he hasn’t spoken to since a moment of tragedy.
Despite minor, momentary quibbles, Tucked remains charming throughout, in no small part due to the performances by Derren Nesbitt and Jordan Stephens. As Jackie, Nesbitt is playing a character a decade younger than himself, an ageing man facing up to his mortality but refusing to die wallowing in his own misery. The film is frequently funny, but it refrains from ever becoming a Bucket List-style romp, or acting against its protagonist’s wishes to fester in its own sadness. This is due to Nesbitt’s perfectly calibrated performance; he disappears into the role, feeling grounded even when on stage in his drag act. In fact, one of the best choices in Patterson’s screenplay is to make as many of the jokes in the act as cringeworthy as they are funny.
This isn’t a romanticisation of subpar cabaret acts, and Nesbitt understands this; when he’s portraying the character’s stage persona, his sharpness elsewhere in life is replaced by a comic timing that’s ever so slightly off. The concept of an ageing drag queen may be a relative novelty, but the actor has clearly done his research into cabaret acts in general, and understands the methods of performers who rely on tired material. For somebody who has been in the game for a long time, this feels authentic. It makes for an ideal pairing with Stephens, whose character is more comfortable portraying an offbeat personality onstage – two different generations of drag queens, and the actors have done an excellent job nailing down the specificities of two very different styles of performance.