Unicorns review – mechanic meets drag queen in touching drama with real-world edge

The world seems a little brighter when garage mechanic Luke (Ben Hardy) first meets drag artist Aysha (Jason Patel). Before stumbling by chance into an underground “gaysian” cabaret club, Luke, a straight single dad, plods from day to identical day in a life that seems to be painted in shades of dispiriting grey. Even his sex life – a functional, no-frills grapple with a disinterested woman in a patch of wasteland – is monochrome. But once he finds himself in Aysha’s orbit, colours flood the frame.

It’s an evocative visual leap that brings a touch of magic to this London, Essex and Manchester-set story, the latest picture from Sally El Hosaini, co-directed with long-term collaborator James Krishna Floyd (star of My Brother the Devil, and the screenwriter of this film). Here are characters with real-world problems. Luke is struggling with his rambunctious son; Aysha is living a double life, concealing her sexuality from her loving but conservative Muslim family, but there’s a shimmering fairytale romanticism that softens the harder edges of the story.

Their initial spark is abruptly extinguished when Luke belatedly realises during their first encounter that the fabulous figure who disarmed him with a wink during her dance routine is not who he had assumed. But then Aysha employs Luke as a driver and the attraction between them reignites. The excellent central performances carry the story: Patel’s physicality shifts between the power and magnetism of Aysha and the gentleness of Ashiq, the closeted queer person under the wigs and glitter who is the sensitive son of a strict father and adoring mother. And Hardy is terrific, his face crowded with conflicting emotions that Luke doesn’t have the words to express.

In UK and Irish cinemas

The Guardian

Leave a Reply