Heads up: The Gigolos on BBC One tonight

Mayfair's lesser-known nocturnal activities are explored in this buddy movie with a difference…

Think buddy movie and the likes of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard With A Vengeance and Top Gun spring to mind. The archetypal buddy movie is a testosterone-fuelled rush, a step into a world we’d love to be part of to pursue our action hero fantasies and drive off into the sunset with two buxom beauties by our side.

The Gigolos is also a buddy movie of sorts but it couldn’t be further away from the Hollywood imaginings of how men should act, all bulging muscles, shit-eating grins and high fives. There are some similarities: the lavish setting (London’s Mayfair), gentlemen in the smartest of suits, the importance of co-dependency, and lots of women.

Crucially for this movie, though, those women aren’t scantily clad, bronzed and every male viewer’s fantasy – unless you happen to be a lover of fine acting from some of Britain’s elder set, this is. The central women in this movie are all over 50 – Susannah York, Siân Phillips, Angela Pleasence, Anna Massey – and all deliver wonderfully subtle performances, never over-egging their roles or attempting to steal the limelight from each other. It’s a masterclass in acting at times and a true joy to watch, Massey in particular having great fun in a role that also proves rather moving in spite of its brief time on screen.

The film’s central protagonists are not the female cast, however – this is a film called The Gigolos after all. The partnership in question is that of well-groomed and established male escort Sacha and his live-in personal assistant (essentially a corporate imagining of a pimp), Trevor. Sacha is a particular hit with well-to-do over fifties who want some respite from their daily lives. For Phillips’ politician it’s a chance to dance with a man in a private club where she can be sure no-one will see her. For seen-it-all modelling agent York, Sacha presents an opportunity to do something spontaneous and new – breaking into a hotel.

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Sacha’s working life is easy. He’s reached the top of his profession and is well respected by all and that’s largely down to the legwork put in by Trevor. We see the effort he puts in to researching Sacha’s dates: what gifts to buy, the places to take them, what to talk about. Without Trevor, Sacha’s world could fall apart so easily. Their relationship outside of their professional one is strange at times and we’re not quite sure whether they really like each other or not. Sacha seems to hold a certain degree of disdain for Trevor, openly mocking him regularly about his own inability to ask out the girl in the corner shop. For his part, Trevor is subservient, just happy to keep his partner in business.

The film cleverly explores what happens when these roles are reversed and the impact that has on both men during the second half of the movie, when an accident to Sacha sees Trevor having to step in. A few lessons in love and he’s ready for action, doing a pretty good job in the process. Naturally this presents Sacha with a problem. If Trevor can beat him at his own game, where does that leave him? So the jealousy begins and the potential breakdown of their relationship plays out.

Watching The Gigolos is much like viewing a West End play and it’s all the better for it. There are no gimmicky effects, preening or grandstand acting from anyone here. This is all about understatement and letting small actions and the simplest of words speak for themselves. Much of this is a result of the improvisation that occurs during the film. A scene in which Massey’s formerly glamorous debutante is treated on leaving a taxi to the flash of paparazzi cameras was achieved because it really was shot outside a club frequented by celebrities and the snappers were expecting to see Jodie Marsh leaving the Bentley. Placing the actors in real environments, ones in which even they didn’t fully know what to expect, brings clear rewards when it comes to the on-screen footage as reactions are real and lines are improvised. It’s the same for the hotel break-in. This really did take part in a real hotel with the actors having to sneak around so as not to get caught and it’s as intriguing to watch as it must have been for the actors to play.

The Gigolos is a witty take on male friendships and the stranger relationships that exist in life and it’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed. While the central premise might not instantly appeal and it’s positioning in some quarters as a light comedy is a little off the mark (it raises smiles rather than belly laughs), if you go into the experience with an open mind you’ll be treated to great performances and a tight, interesting plot with a touching ending. It deserves a wider audience, and is well worth watching tonight on BBC One.

4 stars

The Gigolos is shown tonight on BBC One at 11.20pm.

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