Maisie review – affectionate portrait of Britain’s oldest drag act

‘I should have written a bloody book. I’d have been rich.” So says David Raven, Britain’s oldest drag artiste (he hates the term “drag queen”). At 88, Raven is still performing – perched on a stool – as his alter ego Maisie Trollette. In this affectionate if slight documentary, he tells a story or two, though perhaps not enough to fill a book. Raven’s memory is fading. Nothing is said outright, but the camera lingers a few times on his medication, Donepezil, which is prescribed to help with dementia.

So the film becomes a rather lovely portrait of Raven’s support network in Brighton – an inter-generational group of friends from the drag circuit all keeping an eye on David (“Maisie” is just for the stage). Raven is a legend on the scene. His persona is Marlene Dietrich crossed with a bouncer: bird’s nest peroxide wig and saucy Carry On humour. “He wasn’t glam, he made me laugh,” remembers a friend from the early days. No surprise he became a panto fixture.

Raven reminisces about the time he was performing at the gay pub, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, in the 80s when it got raided by police. An officer took one look at him in full drag, turned to the landlord and said: “Get your mother upstairs, she doesn’t need to see this.” Raven pulls a face of mock outrage. “Bleedin’ cheek.” More seriously he talks about nursing his partner Don, who died of Aids. Raven came of age when sex between men was illegal; you sense the secrecy and shame are still there. He won’t get dressed up at home and walk down the street in drag.

There are some slightly stiff scenes of him meeting the world’s oldest drag queen, who flies in from America to perform with him. I preferred moments where he’s pottering about, lovingly watched over by drag scene friends Miss Jason and Dave Lynn. And his birthday party is treat. All together now: “Hip, hip, he’s gay!”

• Maisie is released on 5 August in cinemas and on digital platforms.