Transgender trailblazer and legend of Les Girls, Carlotta, is the subject of this bio pic directed by Samantha Lang (The Well) starring Jessica Marais of Packed to the Rafters and Love Child fame.
The movie follows the life and loves of one of the LGBT community’s most celebrated performers, Carlotta. Commencing with Carlotta’s early years, when she was still Richard, a boy from Balmain with a yearning for girlish things; Carlotta follows Richard’s slow blossoming and acceptance that he longs to be a woman to his gradual transformation into Carol, finally becoming the showgirl Carlotta.
Director Samantha Lang and writer David Hannam have gone for entertainment over drama with Carlotta. Not to say this is all style over substance, for the movie certainly has its darker moments in Carol’s search for self and acceptance. But while Carol ‘Carlotta’ Spencer’s life undoubtedly traversed many highs and lows, for the most part this film glosses over the trials and tragedies that Carol undertook in her journey to becoming a woman. Instead Lang concentrates more on the universal themes of family and acceptance - which Carlotta finds in spades amidst the fluff and sparkle of life as a Les Girl.
Anyone who has seen photos of Carlotta from her Les Girls' heyday, will instantly recognise the resemblance between Carlotta and the movie’s star, Jessica Marais. Little wonder when it came time to casting the role, Carlotta herself suggested Marais for the part. And while there will no doubt be a lot of brouhaha surrounding Marais’s casting – why wasn't a transgender actress playing Carlotta? – Carol told GNN, “You’ll get the critics that say, ‘Why did you get a woman to play me', and I say, ‘Well find me a pretty boy that could do it!’.
Certainly Marais does her best to do justice to the legend. With Carol/Carlottta serving as an advisor on the film, Marais had plenty of time to study her counterpart. The actress obviously put her time to good use, embodying many of Carlotta’s mannerisms to evoke the Les Girls' star. She also lends a lovely fragility and vulnerability to the role. And while the real-life Carlotta was/is obviously a scene-stealer, Marais’s best work is done in the quieter moments. Her scenes with Peter (Ryan Johnson) and Ava (Eamon Farren) are amongst the best in the film. Indeed the support cast for this movie are all impeccable. Anita Hegh is great as Richard/Carol’s manipulative and spiteful mum and Eamon Farren is superb as Carol’s best friend, Ava. Socratis Otto is also likeable and Caroline O’Connor steals scenes as the Les Girls' dance mistress, Sheila.
More could certainly have been made of the gritty underbelly of Kings Cross’ life and the swinging sixties world Calotta inhabits. Certainly there would also have been richer veins to mine in Carol’s gender reassignment surgery and the homophobia that was no doubt rife at the time. But then perhaps that’s another movie…
As it stands Carlotta is a likeable enough film with enough razzle-dazzle to keep you entertained. And as Carlotta tells GNN, if it helps one young person have the courage to be themselves then it's worth it.