A charmingly eccentric light comedy about not being afraid to be who you are, “Secret Society” is a small but well-observed pic that marks writer-director Imogen Kimmel as a talent to watch. Streets away from the mass of hoodlum-culture movies that make up a sizable portion of current British cinema, this offbeat item takes familiar working-class characters and gives them an original twist, ballasted by careful direction and a host of well-drawn performances. Film has already debuted in Singapore and should recoup its budget through offshore TV sales, though further fest exposure is deserved.
Set around Doncaster, South Yorkshire, story centers on overweight Daisy (Charlotte Brittain), who gets a tedious job at a canning factory when husband Kenny (Lee Ross) is out of work. On the point of handing in her notice, she’s suddenly invited by the firm’s boss, Marlene (Annette Badland), to join the strangest of secret societies.
Marlene is a Japan freak, and behind closed doors has established a female sumo-wrestling club, which she calls “the first step against oppression and mockery.” Initially wary, Daisy finally commits — partly as a private rebellion against Kenny’s latest moneymaking move to get her to pose for nude photos. After training, Daisy adopts a sumo moniker, Mistress Great White Jellyfish.
Kenny — basically an idle bum whose best friend is a UFO nerd — gets suspicious about why Daisy is staying out so much. After spying on her training in the country, dressed in Japanese attire and bending herself into strange shapes, he believes she’s being brainwashed by aliens.
Cleverly melding shooting in Yorkshire, the Isle of Man and a Cologne studio to suggest a northern English community viewed through a slightly irreal lens, Kimmel keeps the humor low-key and grounded, with the accent on building likable characters. The female sumo club is portrayed with both irony and compassion, its subtext never underscored in a heavy way. The biggest, and subtlest, irony of the movie is that Daisy and Kenny are, for all his faults and her rebellion, a loving couple — and he likes her chubby. As such, pic steers clear of being a fatty comedy.
Brittain carries the picture with a reined-in portrait of quiet determination, and veteran Badland hits just the right note of eccentric conviction as the leader of the club. Especially in interiors centered on sumo wrestling, Kimmel and d.p. Glynn Speeckaert fashion a look that plays on the husband’s alien suspicions as well as the weirdness of the central idea.