Pretty Red Dress is a debut feature starring a one-time X Factor winner so, you know, kill me now. But it’s a thin week and I’ll cut it some slack and be kind, like it says on the T-shirts. That was my thinking, because, as is now obvious, I can be a patronising fool. This is a terrific film. It’s original, has heft, is magnificently performed, and it blew me away.
The writer-director is Dionne Edwards who, as I also now know, was named one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow in 2019. One of her shorts, We Love Moses, is available on Disney+ and it is totally worth 15 minutes of your time. The X Factor winner isn’t Harry Styles, for once, but Alexandra Burke, who triumphed in 2008. Here, she plays Candice, who works in a supermarket but dreams of becoming a West End star. And it’s not far-fetched: she’s up for playing Tina Turner in a big musical with only a few auditions to go.
Meanwhile, her partner, Travis (Natey Jones), has just been released from a year in prison and they have a teenage daughter, Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun), who is academically gifted but having trouble at school. I was fearing: oh God, Travis won’t stay clean and will return to drug dealing, dragging the whole family down. Don’t do it, Travis! But, as quickly becomes apparent, it’s not that story. It’s nowhere near that story. (I wasn’t even close.)
Travis is a tough, respected fella on their Lambeth estate. Kids playing loud music laugh at Candice when she tells them to turn it down, but one look from Travis and they’re on it. That’s important to note, and Edwards has us note that right from the off.