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Maisie ★★★★



Director: Lee Cooper

Release: August 5th 2022

In a cinematic context. At a time when we’ve just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first UK Gay Pride rally in London. It has been heartening to see a gear shift back to the poignant perspectives of a quickly disregarded older generation, who, for all the joy carried in their hearts, that significant progress has been made. There’s perhaps a hint of jealousy or a wealth of difficulty in acclimatising to this modern world, with Todd Stephen’s raucous road movie Swan Song boasting an effervescent Udo Kier a recent prime example. 

In an era of death, drops and lip syncs for your life, the beautiful world of drag is suddenly thrust into the mainstream. The old-school brand of cabaret drag continues to amuse and move, their superior storytelling befitting the resilient ‘the show must go on’ mentality instilled in many a drag performers. 

The embodiment of this? Look no further than the glittering career of one David Raven, better known as Maisie Trollette. Proudly owning the tag of Britain’s oldest drag artiste at 88 and a regular fixture of Brighton Pride, Director Lee Cooper allows us to peek behind the curtain of their 50-year run in this profoundly touching documentary.

An act built on a saucy sense of humour and level of farce that cheekily winks in the direction of pantomime productions. The opening of David being ‘dead butch’ in his modestly sized garden serves as a visual metaphor for the everyday maintenance needed to maintain a pristine performance on stage.

 Flanked joyfully by their fabulous support system consisting of Dave Lynn and Miss Jason whilst they rehearse timeless offerings like The Lady Is A Tramp. It’s all in aid of a unique collaboration with the world’s oldest drag queen Darcelle XV, who revels in the pageantry of it all compared to Maisie. It prompts a reflective walk down memory lane for David that, whilst erratic due to their declining health living with Alzheimer’s, the sheer clarity in the honesty and hilarity that pours out of them remains. Through this moment of queer history.

The most telling aspect of Maisie is the apparent disparity that evolves throughout its lean runtime of David out of drag when put against their sparkling drag persona. Brought up in a time where such entertainment was underground, emphasised by the distinct lack of archival video footage on display of early Maisie performances, instead a colourful array of star-studded photos doing much of the heavy lifting. Intertwined with the fact sex between men was still illegal and the tragedy of losing his dear partner Don to AIDS, his BBC Sussex recorded interview from 2013 was a particularly tough listen. The weight of shame or internalised homophobia is heartbreakingly evident in David’s musings, who, even at their ripe age, now remains uncomfortable walking down the street in full drag or asking for directions to the nearest gay bar.

Director Johnson thankfully balances out these close observations through the amplified celebratory sheen he greets Maisie with when under the spotlight. Her still sharp repartee and wonderful ease with a hometown crowd and fellow drag artists is adoringly captured whilst paying tribute to the craftsmanship and dedication it takes to plough on with such a profession. The flurry of prolonged candid takes of David preparing backstage, a defiant pushback against the rotten health condition creeping in. The tear-jerking gusto in the showstopper ‘If I Never Sing Another Song’ encapsulates Maisie’s life trajectory, skilfully articulating the strength shown in overcoming adversity and paying tribute to an art form that has undoubtedly been their saviour. 

Like the accusation sadly still levelled at the UK drag scene in some quarters. It may not immediately jump out as a worthy recipient of a Ru Peter badge. But it is absolutely part of its appeal. They may be sitting on a stool. Yet Maisie’s body of work stands tall.

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