Price & Sons of Northampton have been in the shoe business for generations, proudly making finely crafted men’s shoes. But when Harold Price suddenly dies, his reluctant son -“ who never showed much talent for shoemaking -“ is handed the factory keys.
Charlie (Joel Edgerton with a fine Midland accent) soon discovers that the family business is spiralling towards bankruptcy. What to do?
When Charlie goes to London to drum up orders, he rescues drag queen Lola (a startling, corseted Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the violent clutches of street thugs and winds up -“ after a nasty bump to the head -“ at a Soho drag cabaret haunt where he is introduced to a new mode of footwear.
Kinky Boots is based loosely on the real story of shoemaker Steve Pateman, whose own shoe factory -“ like many others in Northampton -“ was struggling to make ends meet. When cheap men’s brogues from Eastern Europe and Asia began flooding the market, Pateman took a gamble and began making erotic women’s boots for a male market. Hello to the Kinky Boot Factory.
Kinky Boots is a story that, in many ways, is happening around the Western world as traditional manufacturing centres are closed down by the cheap labour of developing nations.
When the producers of Calendar Girls pitched the idea of Kinky Boots to director Julian Jarrold, they said they imagined it as Ken Loach meets Pedro Almodovar, the crumbling world of working class England meets the dazzling, nocturnal cabaret drag world with the fashion of Milan thrown in as a trophy.
Jarrold has a solid 10-year career directing TV drama and miniseries, most recently the Channel 4 adaptation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. In his feature film debut, Jarrold never wastes a moment. Kinky Boots is as tight, taut and terrific as Chiwetel Ejiofor is as Lola.
Writers Geoff Deane and Tim Firth depict Lola as more than a bitchy drag queen with a quip or 10. Lola is complex and considered, and the six-foot, muscular Chiwetel Ejiofor, seen in Love Actually, Melinda And Melinda and Dirty Pretty Things, is excellent in the role.
When Charlie suggests to Lola she help design a collection of kinky boots, Lola arrives unexpectedly in the conservative backwater of Northampton in full drag. And when the Price factory’s alpha male Don (Nick Frost of Shawn Of The Dead) makes life hard for our girl, Lola rises to the occasion and subtly charms the factory workers into producing a collection of wild stiletto boots for the Milan Shoe Fair.
Plain and simple, Kinky Boots is feelgood comedy of the highest calibre. The penultimate scenes at the Milan Shoe Fair are a joy and the catwalk scene, dazzlingly good. There’s a fantastic soundtrack of torch songs, northern soul and Motown tunes. And then there are the boots -“ in red, pink and leopard skin leather, with 6-inch steel reinforced heels. Joel Edgerton twisted his ankle in a pair of red kinky boots at rehearsal. I would have broken my neck.