Bold, witty and refreshing, Tommy Gillard’s Shuttlecock is a sharp comedy that explores masculinity in the twenty-first century. Opening with a shot of a dripping shuttlecock, the 13-minute award-winning short film unfolds to depict homosocial tensions in a badminton rivalry.
The sport comedy is set in a charity badminton tournament, dominated by champion Carl. The team are enamoured by the new, youthful player Morgan Silk, whose success challenges the status quo. Exhibiting less strength than his badminton counterparts, he earns their respect through his skill and agility, competing gracefully without relying on brute force. Increasingly threatened, Carl is forced to confront his own ideals of masculinity.
The physicality of the short film foregrounds homoeroticism in the visuals and character development. The graphic match cut of the men eating fruit to a close-up of a squeezed, dripping cloth helps propel the tensions of the film’s themes. The rapid camera motion and cinematic score during the montage of Carl’s frustration in his rivalry highlights the disorientation of his own repressed desire. This contrasts the calmness of Morgan’s demonstration of a badminton swing, and the delicacy in this moment. With strong central performances from Tom Greaves and Niall Kiely, the short film is character-driven, poignantly balancing drama with humour to explore themes rarely shown on screen.
Badminton feels like the perfect vehicle to address these issues. Due to the nature of the short film, the action is condensed to thirteen minutes, but this does not inhibit the story’s fully formed narrative. The tournament is structured like a combat on the badminton court in a battle of gendered dynamics. Initially, Carl mocks Morgan as the newest player in the tournament, asking if he “got lost on the way to a ballet tournament”, yet his softness and impressive skillset threatens Carl’s assumptions of masculinity, leading him to assert “I’m the better man” during their match. The short film depicts various elements of sport culture, including locker-room banter and a cleverly placed innuendo about a charity BBQ, framing the objectification of Morgan Silk through the discussion of food. These highlight the complexities of toxic masculinity, such as body shaming and the suppression of male ‘vulnerabilities’, contributing to wider mental health implications including body dysmorphia and repressed sexuality. The balance of humour to address these issues is employed skilfully throughout the film and encourages the need to celebrate men in every shape and size.
The short film is a joy to watch, with beautiful artistic direction. From the composition of the set in the framing of the changing rooms, to the 4:3 aspect ratio and desaturated green colour scheme, the film is stylistically confident, featuring innovative editing including transitions with zoom lenses. Commissioned by the Exeter Phoenix, the film’s success highlights the importance of investing and supporting local filmmakers, and marks exciting possibilities for the future of regional art organisations. As the first film from the Two Shorts Nights festival to be chosen for BFI’s London Film Festival, Tommy Gillard’s Shuttlecock is a testament to Devon-based cinema.
– Leoni Fretwell
Screened for the BFI London Film Festival, Shuttlecock is available to watch for free on the BFI Player until Sunday 18th October 2020.
Featured Image Source: Tommy Gillard