Transferring to the big screen, The Pass – based on the play by John Donnelly, who adapts it for the screen – brings Russell Tovey along with it, reprising his role as a footballer named Jason who we first meet on the verge of breaking into the metaphorical and literal big leagues.
So too is Arinze Kene’s Ade, and the film first introduces us to them rooming together in a European hotel the night before their first ever game for their (unnamed) team. It’s a Champions League game, and so it’s a fair bet they’re not playing for Birmingham City. But this does not dull their anticipation.
The pair share their excitement, their nerves and their dreams across a playful, sometimes brutal conversation. And then, out of the blue, they share a kiss. A kiss that’s built to with some sublimely patient editing. And a kiss that has ramifications for the two of them, both immediately and in the years that follow. The film then catches up with them at later stages in their lives (a not dissimilar structure to the one utilised by Steve Jobs), and explores just what impact one of the two passes of the film’s title has had.
Debut director Ben A Williams is working with tight resources in putting the story on the screen, and its to his immense credit that most of the time, you barely notice. It’s not too tricky to guess of its theatre origins, given that the setting is primarily a single suite at a time, but Williams clearly is a man who knows what he’s doing. He has two lead actors, giving strong performances, and he keeps his focus firmly trained on them.
For Kene, best known to date for his work on EastEnders and Hollyoaks, this deserves to be a genuine breakout. For Tovey, this deserves to win him gongs. Jason is a character who handles his insecurities by putting up a big, arrogant defensive shield, and Tovey manages to find the humanity beneath often incredible unpleasantness. Quite shocking unpleasantness sometimes. When the two leads are sharing a screen together, you can’t take your eyes off them. Lisa McGrillis, too, gives a strong performance, as Lyndsey.
That the setting of the film is professional sport, and repression of sexuality, adds another layer, as you might expect. We’re left in little doubt that this is a macho arena in which to ply your trade. What’s more, we’re in an era where there’s not an openly gay professional footballer in the top leagues in the UK, and The Pass reflects that. Both lead characters know there’d be consequences to revealing anything other than pure heterosexuality on their part, and there’s a haunting sequence where we see just how far one of them will go to to prevent even the merest rumour of his attraction to someone of the same gender from spreading.
It’s an urgent, raw and unmissable film, this. Shocking in places, certainly, and fighting against the barriers imposed by the limits of the physical production. It did leave me yearning to also see this on stage, where the intensity of the piece can only be amplified by seeing it live and in person. But The Pass is a real achievement in its film form, and Ben A Williams is very much a talent to watch.