When the young Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) inherits the family business, a failing shoe factory in Northampton, he feels like a fish out of water. Unable even to operate the office intercom, he finds that one of his first tasks is to make fifteen of his workers redundant. Cheap imports from abroad are slashing the market for handmade shoes and faced with the economic realities, Charlie is uncertain how stop the slow spiral towards extinction.

But two people jolt him into a new course of action. An outburst from sacked worker Lauren (the elfin-faced Sarah-Jane Potts), suggesting Charlie discover new markets, and a chance meeting with larger-than-life drag queen Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in a London alleyway make him realise that perhaps salvation can be found producing kinky boots for a niche market of cross dressers and transvestites.

Kinky Boots follows the tried and tested British movie formula established in Calendar Girls (2003), The Full Monty (1997) and Billy Elliot (2000). It mixes a bit of light hearted humour, a touch of social realism, and, despite the occasionally overwrought drama, everything always works out in the end. There are no real surprises here, and even a vague feeling of déjà vu, as the plot unfurls; but you’d have to be a bit of a cynic to really hold it against Kinky Boots. Despite clichéd portrayals of bumbling bosses, earthy workers, drag queens, wives who just don’t understand and the pretty worker who does, the movie has a charm that dares you not to like it.

The movie succeeds thanks to the two main leads. Joel Edgerton has a face stuck in the 70s, recalling British actors Robin Askwith and Richard O’Sullivan, but the Australian thespian, previously known for playing Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels, pulls off a flawless Northampton accent and pours enough earnest personality into the role to make him eminently watchable.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (who also appears in Four Brothers and Serenity opening this month) resists the urge to go completely over the top, camping it up when Lola is “performing”, but also drawing himself inward to demonstrate Lola’s vulnerable, insecure side. Lola and Charlie are instinctively drawn together because they’re both filled with uncertainties, and this theme of identity forms the backbone of the movie.

Shaun of the Dead‘s Nick Frost who plays Don, a factory worker slightly offended by Lola’s presence and sceptical of Charlie’s attempts to find a new direction for the shoe factory, is effortlessly funny. But on the whole this is a forgettable, paper thin film that adds nothing new to any of the subjects it touches on. Kinky Boots is diverting while it’s on the screen, rinsing itself out of the mind within minutes of leaving the movie theatre.

If you liked The Full Monty, or the twee output of Richard Curtis, then you’ll like this. It’s charming, inoffensive stuff, solidly helmed by Julian Jarrold, directing his first feature film after a career directing TV dramas like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2002). If, on the other hand, you don’t, at least you’ll know exactly what you’re avoiding.

Kinky Boots (2005)
Dir. Julian Jarrold
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Nick Frost, Ewan Hooper, Linda Basset, Jemima Rooper
Genre: Drama, Comedy

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