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SHORT FOCUS 2019: Real Shame [Gwen O'Toole, UK, 2019]

A-Level results day: a testing time in the life of any young academic, even more so for Real Shame’s Benjy who will, on this day, admit to his more traditional father, that he will not in fact be choosing to study medicine at UCL but, instead, go to drama school. The film’s thematic domain lies in the complexity of our reactions in times of stress, and our inability to process and communicate our insecurities and embarrassments clearly, even with the ones we cherish and trust.

One drawback of Real Shame is that all too frequently, its message is too ‘on the nose’. Benjy’s father has the strongest of reservations about his son’s chosen career path and, doubtless, the timing with which he has chosen to deliver the news to his father. However, lines such as, “a man must provide”, don’t leave much room for complexity in the father’s inner psyche or outward reaction.

The forced nature of the dialogue is reinforced by the use of The Platter’s ‘The Great Pretender’ twice during the film. The father’s true reaction to his son’s decision is not as one-dimensional as it first seems. However, any shock that the film’s concluding revelation brings is considerably dampened by this all too obvious choice of song. Whilst the nature of this reveal should deservedly be kept hidden for those hoping to watch the film for the first time, any viewer familiar with American Beauty [Sam Mendes, USA, 1999] or Stardust (Matthew Vaughn, USA, 2007], may realise that they have seen something similar to these rather clichéd events a few times before…

An additional unsticking point can be found in the father’s characterization. As a proud surgeon, he pointedly tells Benjy, that if he followed in his father’s footsteps, “you could have people’s respect and admiration. Don’t you want that?” This despite the fact that the father has theatre tickets for that night, suggesting that he does indeed see value in the art form. In truth, this is a strange touch in the storyline, that doesn’t have much in way of a credible explanation, instead highlighting flaws in the character profile.

Furthermore, these opinions are coming from a character who pronounces theatre ‘the-etre’, a man who notes the value of being seen to pronounce this most elitist of terms properly. Yet despite this, apparently, he is desperately seeking to hide a deep-rooted shame, provoked by the thought of his son “prancing about on stage”. Hmmm…

Whilst the storyline, dialogue, and characterization may ultimately leave something to be desired, it cannot be argued that the direction and production value on display are impressive. In terms of camera-work and visuals, Real Shame is as impressive as any short you are likely to see, with a smartly used budget of €1700 coming to good effect. Unfortunately, these aspects do little to gloss over a clichéd story.


‘Real Shame’ was part of the Official Selection for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.


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