Dir: Lee Cooper. Starring: David Raven, Paul O’Grady, Jason Sutton, Dave Lynn. 15, 75 minutes

David Raven doesn’t like the term “drag queen”. He prefers to be known as a “drag artiste” when he performs as his sensational alter-ego Maisie Trollette, a role in which he’s been dazzling audiences for over half a century. First-time feature director Lee Cooper’s sweet, soulful documentary Maisie captures Raven in the run-up to his 85th birthday celebrations and provides a joyful insight into the trailblazing life of Britain’s oldest working drag performer.

Raven first made his name in the Eighties alongside fellow drag artiste Jimmy Court as cabaret duo The Trollettes. Their performances at historic LGBT+ London venues like The Black Cap and The Vauxhall Tavern made fans of luminaries including ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and record-breaking Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King. Success led to work in panto, and over the years Raven has put his golden voice to good use by raising thousands of pounds for charities including the Sussex Beacon, which provides specialist care and support for people living with HIV. A cameo appearance from Paul O’Grady at Raven’s birthday party makes clear the respect Raven has earned on the drag circuit.

Now a spry octogenarian, Raven is first seen pottering around his garden in Brighton, where he uses bright yellow ball gowns hung from scaffolding to keep the birds away and likes to wear sequined gloves to do the weeding. His acerbic wit and saucy sense of humour are soon on display as he recalls an anecdote about a police raid on an early Trollettes pub show, where one of the officers suggested to the landlady that she escort her mother (Raven, in drag) upstairs to safety.

Among the various events planned to mark Raven’s big day is a visit from Walter Cole, who at 87 is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest drag performer in the world. Cole has flown in from Portland, Oregon, to perform as his own alter ego, Darcelle XV, although his seniority does little to protect him from Raven’s gentle ribbing both onstage and off.

Raven cuts an occasionally cantankerous figure, particularly when verbally sparring with friends and fellow British drag artists Miss Jason (Jason Sutton) and Miss Dave Lynn (Dave Lynn), but the footage of the three of them rehearsing and performing together is profoundly heart-warming. Raven brushes off their questions about the idea he might one day retire. “I don’t put this as work,” he says. “It’s keeping me going. God knows what I’d do if I didn’t do anything and I wasn’t being involved. Thankfully I’m able.”

Woven in with the sharp-tongued banter and snappy musical performances of vintage show tunes like “The Lady is a Tramp” are reflective moments, as Raven looks back on his experiences of being a gay man before homosexuality was legal in Britain in 1967, indeed before the term “gay” had even taken on its modern meaning. He also speaks movingly about performing at Brighton Pride the day after the death of his beloved life partner Don. Performing as Maisie, it becomes clear, has guided Raven through numerous tragedies and given him as much love and joy as he’s passed on to his audiences over the decades. By the climatic, emotionally charged performance of German diva Alexandra’s 1968 anthem “If I Never Sing Another Song” there won’t be a dry eye left in the house.

‘Maisie’ is in cinemas and on BFI Player and Bohemia Euphoria from 5 August



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