This spirited British film tackles a topical issue that could be a ticking time-bomb. Although LGBT rights have made great strides in recent years, most notably with the introduction of same-sex marriage in most parts of the UK, the same progress hasn’t filtered through to the world of professional football. Incredibly, there are currently no openly gay players competing in any of England’s top four divisions. Former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton, a spokesperson for LGBT charity Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, has said they’re “as rare as hen’s teeth”.
Adapted by John Donnelly from his own acclaimed stage play, The Pass is a sensitive story about repressed sexuality that takes place in three acts. The first chronicles an awkward sexual encounter between ostensibly heterosexual young footballers Jason (The History Boys’ Russell Tovey) and Ade (Crazyhead’s Arinzé Kene). The second follows an even more awkward sexual encounter between Jason, now a household-name pro with lucrative endorsement deals, and a female stripper he hires to diffuse rumours about his sexuality. The third shows an emotionally charged reunion between Jason and Ade, whose own playing career quickly fizzled out, 10 years after they last met.
Because the story unfolds in three different hotel rooms with virtually no glimpses of the outside world, The Pass can feel more like a play than a film. Then again, perhaps director Ben A Williams decided not to expand the setting to highlight the claustrophobia of Jason’s high-profile lifestyle and the constraints of the closet he’s trapped inside. Donnelly’s wordy dialogue can sound theatrical, too, but it’s often powerful as well and boosted by a pair of brilliant lead performances. Tovey manages to evoke some sympathy for Jason even when he’s being unbearably cruel and arrogant; Kene captures Ade’s conflicting emotions for Jason and his own sexuality with soulful restraint.
In spite of its flaws, this is a poignant and provocative film that often feels uncomfortably realistic. “I’m a f**king role model. Your kids have posters of me on their walls,” a furious Jason rants at one point. “I ain’t gay: gay ain’t even an option.”