‘Femme’: George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett Enter Dark Territory in Absorbing Queer Psychodrama

A queer man’s quest for revenge following a brutal homophobic attack tensely unfolds in Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s riveting British psychodrama, “Femme.” Nathan Stewart-Jarrett stars as Jules, a Black drag performer who is assaulted after a show by “straight” white hooligan, Preston (George MacKay), while his mates make a video of the encounter. Later, Jules enacts a plan to humiliate his attacker, but finds himself wading in increasingly murky and dangerous waters. 

After weeks of hiding at home following the attack, Jules ventures out to a gay sauna. There, coincidentally, he spots Preston. It should not be a complete shock that Preston is gay, as Jules had previously called him out for checking him out at a convenience store during the interaction that led to the violence. In that earlier scene, we see the first glimpse of the fight inside of Jules. But how far is he willing to go? He approaches Preston, who does not seem to recognize him out of drag. They proceed to have sex, then exchange phone numbers, which leads to Jules infiltrating Preston’s world.

While we never see Preston in drag, he is just as much a performer as Jules, although his performance is not confined to a stage. He presents himself as straight to almost everyone around him, which is most likely the reason for his aggressive behavior and self-loathing. He is covered in tats, has served time, and it is implied that he is involved in shady business dealings. When his flatmates catch Jules coming out of his bedroom, he introduces him as a pal from prison. Jules raises the stakes, making Preston squirm, when he accepts an invite from Preston’s mate, Oz (Aaron Heffernan), to join him and Preston’s group of friends at a club. Another layer unfolds when Jules masquerades as a straight guy, even dancing suggestively with a woman in front of Preston. Later, he even turns the table on him when he role plays as a toxic male.

Even after Oz warns Jules about Preston’s temperament, comparing him to a pitbull that has been dropped on his head too many times, and Jules witnesses his hair-trigger temper repeatedly, he moves forward with his plan. His goal is to post a revenge porn video of them having sex, outing Preston to the world (or at least to the viewers of PornHub). The more time passes, the more hesitant he is about hitting the upload button. Is he fearful of Preston? Has he developed genuine feelings for him? Or is it a little bit of both?

Both Stewart-Jarrett and MacKay are fantastic as Jules and Preston become more and more entangled with each other. Jules gets Preston to let his walls down, even getting him to kiss him on the mouth during sex, which is more shocking in the moment than it sounds. In turn, Jules even surprises himself along the way. Eventually, he returns to the stage as his alter ego Aphrodite, incorporating what has been going on in his life into this act, which makes for an epic performance and shocking aftermath.

First-time filmmakers Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping not only succeed in making an effective queer neo-noire, but also do an excellent job when it comes to character development. It would be easy to make Preston a one-note bully who simply walks into a trap, but the duo make both him and Jules multifaceted characters. At times, we even finds ourselves doing the unthinkable, feeling for Preston.

Femme” releases March 22 in select theaters and April 5 nationwide.