Unfortunately Conor Horgan’s feature length documentary about Panti Bliss, Ireland’s most influential drag queen, lacks sparkle, wit and bite – precisely some of the attributes Panti, and other great drag artists, so embody.
The film tells the story of how Rory O’Neill became Panti Bliss, and, subsequently, the face of the same-sex marriage referendum in May 2015. Along the way it reveals how astonishingly late Ireland came to the gay party (which makes its referendum, the first of its kind in the world to be successful, equally astonishing). Again, unfortunately, it tells these seismic stories with very little drama, precision or tension. Everything in the film feels like a foregone conclusion. For example, a few scattered “No” flags serve to represent the entire country’s internal struggle with the referendum’s primary question. Surely, given that the “Yes” vote came in at 62%, there was more to the story in this most passionate and argumentative of countries?
Australians, potentially facing an expensive and divisive plebiscite on the same issue, will find nothing here to inform them about such an action’s pros and cons. According to the film, it will simply be a bit of a party at the pub and smiles all around.
Likewise, the gay struggle in Australia and in other countries has been much better documented elsewhere, and Panti herself cannot hold a candle to many of the drag artists who simply work the Sydney pub circuit. The Queen of Ireland may hold great emotional resonance to residents of that green isle, but feels, to this Sydneysider, like old news uninterestingly told. I’m frankly surprised it’s getting a theatrical release here.