Tuesday, 13 March 2018
Secret Society (2000)
Secret Society is a little seen comedy from 2000, somewhat in the mould of The Full Monty, and it is all about a group of plus sized female factory workers in Yorkshire who become sumo wrestlers. It is a British/German co-production from director Imogen Kimmel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Catriona McGowan.
It stars Charlotte Brittain of 1998's Get Real (pictured above;whatever happened to her? She's so sweet, charming and sexy here) as Daisy, an insecure young woman who has problems accepting her size and her beauty despite the clear belief from her husband Ken (Lee Ross) that she is gorgeous as she is. Unfortunately, despite Ken clearly being mad about her, he's a bit of an amiable well meaning prat who is unable to hold down a job or get their lives on course for the future. Determined to make Daisy feel good about herself and make some money he hits upon the idea of her posing for saucy postcards and resolutely fails to understand or read the signs that Daisy is acutely embarrassed and uncomfortable by this venture - and you can't really blame her, when his idea is to paint rodent features on her bare breasts and print postcards with the legend 'Greeting from the Yorkshire Field Mouse'. I could have done with some explanation as to his thinking here, really I could.
Realising that she has to bring home the bacon herself, Daisy gets a job in a local veg packing factory run by Marlene (Annette Badland) and which seems to employ more than its fair share of ample women, each of whom keep to their own secretive clique. Singled out as having potential by Marlene and the no-nonsense supervisor (Sharon D. Clarke), Daisy is tested by being told she must clean the toilets as well as her official work duties. When she finally snaps and hands in her resignation, Marlene realises that her young protege is a strong willed woman who has what it takes to become part of their inner circle, the secret society of the title - their sumo club.
Marlene has long ago realised that, for plus sized women, size is not a weakness it's a strength. Using sumo training and its philosophy - 'shin' (spirit) 'gi' (skill) 'tai' (body) - she teaches her workforce that the body is a tool to use to its optimum, as opposed to their brains being ruled by their body and the hang-ups they may associate with it. This is clearly beneficial to Daisy and much more enlightening than Ken's hamfisted methods of trying to make her recognise her attractiveness. But of course, as Daisy takes the rocky road to self discovery and self confidence that she must keep secret from Ken, he begins the descent into insecurity and vulnerability.
Ken's mates (James Hooton and Charles Dale) are both UFO obsessives who work at the local video shop. When Ken loans some kind of titillating alien amazon women film (featuring Hooten's Emmerdale co-star Lisa Riley who surprisingly gets 6th billing in the film despite only having three scenes and one piece of dialogue) from them and attends a few of their meetings he begins to believe that Daisy's new secretive mood and physical confidence is a result of aliens taking over her body! Like Ken's harebrained postcard scheme, I'm not quite sure what the filmmakers were going for her and the resulting subplot falls pretty flat at a time when the film should be stepping up a gear to reach its climax. By the final reel, Marlene has convinced her sumo sisters to go public for a tournament against a visiting team of male wrestler from Japan and there's a dilemma for Daisy who has walked away from her friends to be with the clearly distressed and confused Ken and to be little more than his wife once again. Will she stay that way or will the pull of her sisters have her return to the fold not only to continue on her course for enlightenment and size acceptance but also to win the tournament for her team?
Well the answer is of course a predictable yes, she will return and she will win - but everything feels so rushed (especially given that one minute Daisy is watching the bout on TV at home with Ken and the next minute she's there, all dressed up and ready to go - just how near was the arena to their house?!) that you can't help feeling shortchanged.
Despite these niggles in the film's denouement and the fact that, for a Fully Monty-esque comedy there isn't really much in the way of laughs at all (though thankfully it never once makes cheap gags about either weight or sumo; there's no 'big nappy' comments here), and that unfortunately - apart from Brittain, Badland and Clarke - the other female sumo wrestlers are little more than glorified non-speaking extras rather than characters in their own right, Secret Society remains a good film based solely on its merit in terms of not only female empowerment, but empowerment for women who are above a size 12. No wonder it's such a rarity.