Verdict: A game of three halves
With more reports every day about paedophile football coaches, here’s a timely film about another vexed issue in the game – the reluctance of gay footballers to declare their sexuality.
That some top players are gay is hardly in doubt, but they have chosen to stay firmly in the closet, understandably believing that the culture of the game, and of course the fans, are not ready to accept them.
This dispiriting state of affairs is explored by The Pass.
The Pass: Brian Viner thought Arinze Kene, left, and Russell Tovey, right, delivered great performances in the Pass
It begins in a Bucharest hotel in 2006. Jason (Russell Tovey, superb) and Ade (Arinze Kene, also terrific) are young players and good friends, rooming together before a Champions League game.
Eventually, their banter and horseplay cannot conceal their mutual physical attraction. They kiss.
We then skip forward five years to another hotel room. Ade is out of the picture but Jason is now a famous footballer, and married – to a woman.
But his sham marriage is falling apart and there are rumours. Jason needs to portray himself as energetically heterosexual. So he invites a lap dancer to his room.
Five years further forward, Ade visits Jason in yet another hotel. We are invited to believe that Ade’s football career fell apart because of a single pass Jason failed to make (the film’s title, of course, is deliberately ambiguous).
Jason, portrayed by Mr Tovey, needs to portray himself as ‘energetically heterosexual’ in the second part of the three-act film
Whatever, Ade is now a plumber, playing Sunday-league football on Hackney Marshes. But he has a male partner of whom his teammates are aware. So who has had more success in life?
The rich and celebrated footballer approaching the end of a glittering career, but forced to conceal his sexuality? Or the failure as a player, who has been able to come out?
If all this sounds more theatrical than cinematic, it is. John Donnelly has adapted his own three-act play, which had a triumphant run at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2014, and director Ben A. Williams has kept the film version resolutely stagebound.
I don’t know whether this was a financial or artistic decision, but it seems odd to bow to theatrical constraints from behind a camera.
Moreover, Tovey, who also played Jason on stage, is so scorchingly brilliant that watching the film rather made me wish that I’d seen it in the theatre instead.
This feels more like one of those ‘National Theatre Live’ cinematic experiences. But at the end of the day, it still hits the target.