When Ben A.Williams first signed up to direct The Pass, the much-talked about drama centering on the illicit love shared by two would-be footballers, it wasn’t solely with the intention of creating “an issue film.”
“The Pass is not intended to be a campaigning film,” he explains to loaded. “We’re not trying to bring about a change. What we are trying to do is tell a story that is contemporary, modern and moving.”
Based on John Donnelly’s play of the same name, Williams was instead drawn to the writing around the central pairing ofJason (Russell Tovey) and Ade (Arinze Kene),
“It just had an undeniable complexity and emotional honesty,” he admits. “It was just something I wanted to get involved in.”
“The Pass is a relationship drama. In every instance, the drama and the relationship had to work.”
Starting with an emotionally-charged encounter in a hotel room during a squad trip away in the Champions League, the film follows Jason and Ade’s largely closeted relationship over a 10-year period with one player hitting the big time while the other fades into obscurity.
It’s here that the film explores other themes and what Williams defines as a “confrontation between two different definitions of masculinity.”
“You’ve got Jason who subscribes to a traditional vision of what a man is – heterosexual, competitive, assertive, even aggressive.
“Then you have the more modern take on masculinity in Ade who is someone I recognise much more as the type of men I know. He’s openly gay but it’s not an issue.”
Despite his desire to stress that The Pass is not solely focused on the issue of homophobia in football, Williams admits that the film “asks a question of football.”
For this director, however The Pass is about so much more.
“I want audiences to feel like they have gone on a journey with these characters and to think about the cost of keeping your true self locked away and whether it is worth it. Whether it is worth not being who you truly are.”
Crucial to the success of this was the on-screen relationship between Tovey and Kene, something recognised with rave reviews for the former and award wins for the latter at the London Evening Standard British Film Awards.
“The Pass is a relationship drama. In every instance, the drama and the relationship had to work. Then, if we had space we tried to set out our viewpoint on certain issues.”
Part of the process involved a week-long rehearsal period during which the two leads developed their on-screen chemistry.
“Russell and Arinze were complete strangers at that point, so it was about getting them to a position of comfort with each other as quickly as possible,” Williams notes.
“Luckily they were both such accomplished, professional actors that that happened pretty quickly.”
Keen to let the relationship and chemistry flourish, Williams mapped cameras out and allowed the actors to perform large chunks of the play – up to 15 minutes at a time – without cuts.
“Ultimately the solution to the problem of homophobia in football is going to come from a single player rather than a cultural change”
“The result was that we got a quality of performance that is more spontaneous and deeply held. They wear their characters in a very different way because they are being allowed to exist as them for a longer period of time.”
An accomplished, multi-layered relationship drama at heart despite this approach, the film still offers up some comment on homophobia in football.
Does Williams think the film could change perceptions in this particular area though? Definitely not.
“Ultimately the solution to the problem of homophobia in football is going to come from a single player rather than a cultural change,” he admits.
“It’s going to be one or two brave players who decide enough is enough and that they are going to be honest about who they are.
“It’s only through doing that that the sport will realise it isn’t an issue and doesn’t have a bearing on their ability. But it’s easy for me to say that – it still takes one player with the guts to do it.”
The Pass is in cinemas now.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.