Film Review: Maisie

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Director: Lee Cooper

RuPaul has certainly changed the profile of drag artistes in the last few years, but David Raven has the honour of performing longest with over 50 years on stage, largely as Maisie Trollette. Celebrating a big birthday, Lee Cooper’s quiet film follows David for a few days as he performs in various clubs and meets America’s oldest drag queen Walter Cole known as Darcelle XV who comes to Brighton especially to perform with the titular Maisie. A documentary without a plot as such, this is a celebration and exploration of decades in the business.

Cooper’s film has several chapters in chronological order building loosely to a tribute performance in honour of David and Maisie’s 85th birthday. But performance is only party of the story and Cooper is primarily interested in life off-stage, the ordinary day-to-day behind the make-up and the sequins as the, often irascible, David tends his garden in a small flat in Brighton.

Many of the conversations Cooper films are candid reflections on a life on the circuit, the problems of poorly fitted dresses and busted zips, dithering over music choices while sizing up old set lists as well as how to properly pack a wig into a Sainsbury’s bag for life. The fly on the wall style that Cooper adopts doesn’t glamourise the scenario, and gigs often take place in small rooms with minimal dressing, sometimes without a stage, but Maisie has a loyal and eager fan base as Cooper charts the work ethic and devotion to the audience.

Perhaps most striking is Cooper’s focus on the process of transformation, and more than once the film captures the application of make-up and layers of identity it creates not just for Maisie but also for Darcelle XV as the character emerges. The extent to which David only becomes Maisie through this act of application is fascinating, as is David’s rejection of the term ‘drag queen’ for the preferred ‘artiste’ and it is briefly noted that these terms are markedly different for Darcelle XV

This is something Cooper could explore further, considering how and why vocabularies change and drawing greater distinction between long-term professionals and the changes in acceptance they have experienced across their careers in light of more positive contemporary attitudes.

To some extent, Cooper touches on that longer perspective with a touching section on David’s personal life and the partner he lost, shaping his experience and providing some psychological insight that balances well with the demanding behaviour that David exhibits and evident frustrations with those closest to him.

An honest portrait of life as a busy drag artiste in Brighton, Maisie is a complicated figure but there is too little time in Maisie’s 75-minute running time to properly investigate all the narrative possibilities the documentary throws up so while we follow David and Maisie for a period, it isn’t easy to know either of them.

Bohemia Media presents Maisie in cinemas and on BFI Player and Bohemia Euphoria 5 August.

The Reviews Hub Score:

An honest portrait

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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