Review: Steelers

Whoever wrote the programme blurb for this film is doing their job well. Its final, irresistible line reads: ‘Who says you can’t be an ace rugby player and a fabulous drag queen?’ Lovely! Except the film could hardly be more cursory on the subject, since Dean, the player and queen in question, only speaks about the group Divalicious twice, backed up with an all too brief selection of clips. The perspective his comments provide on negotiations of masculinity and femininity, how both acts demand different types of performance, is quite literally the only involving thing in Eammon Ashton-Atkinson’s documentary. The director, an Australian news reporter who moved to the UK and became a member of the Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby club, documents the team’s participation in The Bingham Cup, a tournament involving nearly 60 other gay clubs that popped up after the Steelers. There are two unfortunate words in that last sentence: “news” and “reporter,” because Ashton-Atkinson films and edits Steelers like the final story on the six-o-clock bulletin, the human-interesty one, right before the weather. Fitting, then, that his questions are often ridiculous; his conclusions too easy; his attempts to squeeze emotion out of sequences outright galling. Interviews with head coach Nic Evans (who’s leaving after this final competition, so the film marks something of her swansong) take rhythmically bizarre turns—leaping from the club to her professional achievements to her family life and back again, all of it crashing together in the edit’s messy blend. Likewise, interviews with player Simon, who counts the team as helping him deal with a depression diagnosis, are forced and repetitious. But the angle is admirable. Both Simon and the director recount harsh experiences of being gay in a hetero-patriarchy, and with this in mind the club emerges as something of a haven: a place beneficial for the team’s mental health, rich in social dynamics, and supportive of who they are. This sounds delightful. But there are several problems (like will GFF ever programme a queer doc that isn’t resolutely middle class?), the most pressing of which is: it involves watching people play rugby. Nothing could make that interesting to me (and that’s a pain compounded by the slow-motion, the awful music, and the director’s voiceover commentary of the matches themselves). As is, Steelers is sweet, well-intentioned, and absolutely dull. 

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