Bolan’s Shoes (2023)
Director: Ian Puleston-Davies
Screenwriter: Ian Puleston-Davies
Starring: Timothy Spall, Leanne Best, Mark Lewis Jones, Matthew Horne, Holli Dempsey, Andrew Lancel
The legacy that musical artists possess years after their deaths is almost unfathomable, whether that be through their timeless music that evokes feelings of a better time or how they portray themselves to the masses as god-like figures. Marc Bolan is one of those artists; the man who started the glam rock era of music will always be remembered through his songs, his words, and of course, his style. Cue Bolan’s Shoes, a lovely little tribute to the great songster. Or, so you’d think…
Bolan’s Shoes begins during the 1970s as a group of children from a Liverpool orphanage, which includes siblings Jimmy and Sadie as well as their friend Penny, are taken to see a T. Rex concert in Manchester. Each and every one of them (including the teacher and the vicar) possess a shared fascination with the music of T. Rex, and Bolan himself of course. After a brilliant gig, and with enthusiasm and happiness at an all-time high for these orphans, it all comes crashing down when their coach steers off the road and crashes, killing several people and injuring many more. Fast forward to the present day and a now grown-up Penny (Leanne Best) is living in Wales and plans on travelling to Marc Bolan’s roadside crash memorial to celebrate the singer’s upcoming birthday. Her life is set for another shake-up though, as someone from her past resurfaces out of the blue during this pilgrimage.
While partaking in her yearly visit to Bolan’s memorial, Penny comes across a long-haired and barbate man with a talent for blowing huge bubbles. The withered stranger is a grown-up Jimmy (Timothy Spall), who proceeds to have a fit when recognising his friend from the past. Jimmy has lived a hard life since the tragedy; being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and now living in a dilapidated caravan. Once the pair have been reunited, they disclose all their problems with one another which leads to a better understanding of their traumas. All is not as it seems though, and sibling secrets of the past will soon be revealed; the crash itself will also be expanded upon, and the relationship between Jimmy, Penny and Sadie becomes more important as the film moves through the gears.
Liverpool’s own Leanne Best, and Timothy Spall (even with a slightly inconsistent accent), are the shining lights of the film. It’s in the film’s twisting narrative that you see Best at her absolute… greatest. The moments of revelation are where she excels, the actress putting on a melodramatic show. There is a problem with the film though, and that’s with the script. It’s incredibly light.
Even the great actors at the forefront of the film struggle to get the best out of the script. The relationship between the two main characters is sweet, but it feels a tad awkward in key moments. The narrative structure also has poor foundations – it’s messy, a little confusing, and lacks cohesion. Even though the soon-to-be-revealed secrets do make up for these pitfalls to a small extent, they are a bit out of the blue, a tad forced.
This particular melodrama is filled with cliches, too. In one scene, the pair take a trip back to Liverpool, which of course means a tour of the great city. They visit all the famous landmarks in one predictable montage (landmarks that original scousers would never usually visit either), and it develops into a bit of a cop-out. Director Ian Puleston-Davies seems to be presenting the message: ‘We filmed this in Liverpool, and if you don’t believe us, then check out all these famous places we visited’. Yes, we get it, it has been done before.
Bolan’s Shoes focuses on family, relationships, and past trauma, along with all of its resulting effects. The use of Bolan in the background of the film is interesting as it then allows connections to be made to several different characters who share one thing in common: a love for Marc Bolan. And yet, even though the film was never intended to be about Marc Bolan or his life, it is disappointing that it doesn’t at least expand on the man and how his freethinking ways expelled power into all of his fans. His music is used more of an homage left hovering in the background, as opposed to anything meaningful – this is a drama that could just as easily have been about anyone else.
If you’re a Bolan fan or just a fan of T.Rex and you wanted to watch this film because of that, then you will almost definitely be disappointed with what Bolan’s Shoes has to offer. While not a total blowout – there are some very humorous and super sweet moments – Bolan’s Shoes’ overall impact will largely be forgotten with time.
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Written by John McDonald
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