Walking With Shadows covers some familiar territory, but spins it out with a fresh take thanks to its setting and culture. Irish writer/director Aoife O’Kelly takes on Jude Dibia’s book about a Nigerian man maliciously outed to his family and friends and gives it a pensive, cinematic treatment.
The initial outing happens quickly, a terse phone call which sends Adrian’s (Ozzy Agu) world spinning as he must tell his wife and conservative Christian family the truth, that he is gay but has been hiding it due to societal pressures.
From there, the film takes some unexpected turns, from his brothers taking him to a church with a violent approach to purging the “sin of homosexuality”, to Adrian’s wife meeting a group of women who all have gay husbands. An encounter with a handsome Frenchman, who is used to being openly gay in public, highlights how homosexuality may be mainstream in parts of the West, but it’s a different story elsewhere.
The film treats Adrian’s predicament with a dispassionate eye. Events unfold at a pace, often lacking dramatic tension, until the final moments which see the emotional energy ramp up with a series of confrontations.
Agu’s Adrian moves with sadness but also with strength, confronting his family and friends with a weary resign. His gay friends are supportive and sources of joy, but Adrian’s journey is one of emotional heaviness until he rears up in anguish and anger.
Adrian’s family are given the breadth and complexity to be both loving and unsupportive. Even Adrian’s backwards, conservative mother is no villain, as abhorrent as her views may be. By filling out the whole family, Adrian’s struggles are more vital.
Walking With Shadows’ strength is the compassion it shows all of its characters. Simmering with repressed anger, the film reminds us that LGBTQ+ acceptance is a fight we have yet to win.
By Chad Armstrong
Walking With Shadows plays the BFI London Film Festival.