By Blair Macbride
Rebekah Fortune’s first feature film, ‘Just Charlie’, is a fantastically thought-provoking drama. It portrays the story of a British family that learns its youngest member, football prodigy Charlie, is transgender. Throughout the difficult period in her life, the single biggest thing Charlie desires is for her family and friends to love her for who she is; not who they want her to be. Yet Charlie soon finds out that some of the people closest to her are the ones most likely to hurt her, with some taking longer to accept her than others.
The start of the film sees Charlie, played by Harry Gilby, being offered a potential youth deal by a top football club. She struggles to deal with the pressure from her football-crazy father (Scot Williams) who wants her to take the opportunities he was never offered. He tells Charlie to ‘man up’ and get on with it. As the film progresses, Charlie comes out to her parents and sister as Trans. The family becomes divided, with Charlie’s mother (Patricia Potter) and sister (Elinor Machen-Fortune) supporting her decision, but her father takes the news with sheer hostility. For a long period, Charlie has to deal with abuse as relationships begin crumbling around her. This comes full circle as the story leads to her family and friends fully supporting her in her decision to be ‘Just Charlie’.
Written by Peter Machen, this motion picture is a deeply significant film. It is story telling at its finest: the script is very believable and realistic as it highlights relevant issues in today’s society. It addresses key misconceptions about the LGBTQ+ community and creates a sense of enlightenment through the raw story telling of Machen. This is amplified by the wonderful direction of Rebekah Fortune. She encapsulates the utter self loathing Charlie has for herself and how she feels trapped in a body that isn’t a true representation of how she feels. For viewers that have no knowledge about what its like to come out as trans, the team of Fortune and Machen do incredibly well. They engage the emotions of the audience to the point where the viewer wishes they could reach through the screen and support ‘Charlie’ themselves. The film does take a sudden dubious direction just before its close and suffers from a somewhat random disingenuous ending, but these do not deter from the good writing and directing.
The film is filled with stellar performances. In his debut film, Harry Gilby is extremely convincing for a young actor with very little experience. Gilby conveys the rollercoaster of emotions that his character ‘Charlie’ experiences throughout the film. The rest of Gilby’s on-screen family are a mixed bag. Patricia Potter and Elinor Machen-Fortune give very sincere performances, but Scot Williams is slightly lacklustre and cringe-worthy for the majority of the film. That said, although he takes his time to make an impact, Williams does improve as this picture progresses as the unaccepting dad turned supportive father.
‘Just Charlie’ is a film that has further impact due to its splendid cinematography and soundtrack. Karl Clarke captures intriguing shots and delivers in visually conveying the emotions and development of characters throughout the film. When Charlie feels confined in her body, shots are up close and slightly duller. In contrast, when she escapes and puts on her preferred women’s clothing, shots are wider and have a warmer feel. The film also benefits massively from a strong soundtrack that is used to portray the more sombre and happier moments throughout.
Fortune’s ‘Just Charlie’ is wonderful, informative and delivers a genuinely poignant human interest story. It promotes key issues that need to be tackled in film today, in order to enlighten the not-so enlightened. This film is a real gem that delivers on its message of acceptance and being true to yourself.
‘Just Charlie’ won the Audience Award at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival