Director: Michael Beddoes
Starring: Robbie Gaskell, James Dreyfus, Ben Willbond, Nicole Louise Lewis, Joanne Heywood, Marcus Geldard, Erin Geraghty
Country: United Kingdom
Sequins, written by Amy Clarke and directed by Michael Beddoes, tells the story of 17-year-old Paul Bigsby (Robbie Gaskell), an aspiring drag queen, and his coming-of-age journey into realisation and self-discovery. Set in 1997 Blackpool, Sequins is a fresh, raw and honest portrayal of a teen struggling with his identity and sexuality.
The opening scene — the application of lipstick, a brief focus on a Take That poster — allow us to swiftly enter Paul’s world and, with a telling startled look, we learn everything we need to know about his life and struggles. On the way to school with his father Alan (Ben Willbond), the silence is deafening and, no longer bearing it, Alan drowns out the distance between them by playing “Female Of The Species” by Space on the radio. In one scene, Clarke and Beddoes cleverly lay bare an entire relationship.
Paul’s life isn’t easy. He tackles bullies left and right and lives in fear of ever truly being himself or the person he wants to be. His whole world is an act of pretence and his mask is beginning to slip. After an altercation with two bullies from school, Paul finds safe haven in a local drag bar: Sequins – Blackpool’s Home of Drag. There, Paul is quiet and curious but he is noticed and accepted with open arms. None more so than by the star of Sequins: Mimi Le Purr.
Mimi Le Purr (James Dreyfus) bursts onto the screen — “If you fancy it come along and sponsor my gin habit” — and, following a brief persuasion to care for lost soul Paul, becomes a “fairy drag mother” towards the young boy in search of his dream. So down the rabbit hole he goes and Anastasia is born.
A moving montage follows revealing Paul’s plate spinning juggling act. Oblivious parents and a supportive best friend (Nicole Louise Lewis) are only a cover for the life he so desperately wants to lead and Gaskell is brilliant at portraying Paul’s pain. He tries to hide it but the cracks are starting to show. He is still dodging bullies, not always successfully, but Paul finds solace at Sequins surrounded by his new family. He’s alive there and, though they only share a few scenes together, Gaskell and Dreyfus have a wonderful chemistry.
The film’s highlight is its ending. The image of Paul strutting down the school’s hallway in a sparkling red dress as his teacher and classmates look on aghast is a sight to behold. However, the look on Paul’s face makes it all worth it. He is who he is meant to be, who he was always meant to be and this is his moment. I would say it brought a tear to my eye but I would be lying, I was balling like a baby. It almost doesn’t matter about his performance at the school’s talent show, he has already won, but Gaskell’s amazing voice is the icing on the cake. The reactions from the crowd and the cheers from Mimi and co. in the audience will make your heart soar.
It is remarkable what the filmmakers have managed to achieve in just a 17 minute runtime. Its pacing is excellent, continually flowing but never losing sight of Paul’s plight. The music should also be commended as should its cast, specifically Robbie Gaskell, who is exceptional. Sequins is a pure and honest portrayal of the difficulty in overcoming the fear of being different. It highlights and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community for its acceptance and support system and it gives Paul a place to not only be himself but to escape. I cannot recommend it enough.
Sequins is currently on the festival route so check it out if you have the chance! It was recently a part of the official selection of the Q Flix LGBTQ+ Film Festival in Philadelphia and was most recently announced as part of the official selection for the Bute Street Film Festival. A huge thank you to Michael Beddoes and co. for sending me the film.