In Maisie, Lee Cooper’s respectful and tactful documentary, David Raven can seem a little reserved. While he allows Cooper and his team to film in his home, his garden and even in the tiny dressing rooms as he applies make-up, Raven never seems as allured by his life as we as an audience are.
Raven is the UK’s oldest drag artiste. Yes, artiste, not a drag queen, Raven is very specific about this and is irritated and shocked when someone calls him a drag queen on screen. Going by the name Maisie Trollette, Raven has been performing for over 65 years and Cooper catches him just as he’s gearing up to celebrate his 85th birthday.
Maisie, by all accounts, is a very tasteful documentary. In our interview with Cooper, he talks about loving drag in all its forms and he describes David as a local celebrity. That love colours the entire documentary, in good and bad. Cooper’s love and respect for both David and the scene in general is apparent, but Maisie also lacks objectivity at times that would have resulted in a clearer, cleaner documentary.
But Cooper does manage to capture some incredible moments on camera. David is very straight-forward and plain-spoken, in no means shy. When the Guinness World Record holder for being the oldest drag artist in the world, Darcelle XV, comes to visit, it sparks up a delicious rivalry between the two.
It’s all in good spirits, but the two are very different from each other, like day and night, but Cooper, while keeping his distance as if to not disrupt anything, captures it all. While Maisie is often maybe a little too respectful, the most powerful scenes take place in the cramped dressing rooms as we observe David struggle to get his wig on and wiping bright eyeshadow across his eyelid.
Cooper smartly avoids making Maisie into traumaporn. David has without a doubt encountered harassment and abuse in his life; there is talk of him still refusing to ask directions to a gay bar and David has a lot of internalised homophobia. Regardless of all the hardship evident in his life, Maisie always retains a celebratory tone. More LGBTQIA+ works should adopt the same rather than reducing us to our experiences of trauma.
Maisie also features David’s fellow drag artists, Miss Jason and Miss Dave Lynn. Both provide the film with some warmth and context, allowing us to experience David through his friends and the companionship found in the community. However, the film often struggles to find a balance between David and featuring Brighton’s drag scene in general.
Most crucially, Maisie is a film about growing old. In a brief shot, Cooper reveals David is taking medication for either dementia or Alzheimer’s and suddenly, many scenes that came before make so much sense. Again, Cooper doesn’t dwell on this, but it reframes David’s story and his current situation. We’re never invited to feel sorry for David, but to recognise the momentous contribution he has made to British drag.
Maisie is at times held back by Cooper’s inexperience. It often lacks an objective point of view and clarity, but it’s a warm portrayal of a Brighton legend. We can only hope we’re as spry and witty as David is at 85.
Maisie is in cinemas and on BFI Player and Bohemia Euphoria 5 August from Bohemia Media