Director Ian Puleston-Davies and ‘Bolan’s Shoes’

The spirit of a celebrated ‘70s glam rocker provides the backdrop for Bolan’s Shoes, the directorial debut by Welsh-born actor/writer/director Ian Puleston-Davies. The film is a featured title at this year’s Poppy Jasper International Film Festival in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Puleston-Davies has been a film, stage and television actor since the early 1980s; his extensive credits include roles in popular UK television series including EastEnders, Foyle’s War, Dalziel and Pascoe, Life on Mars, Coronation Street, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Vera, Father Brown and Pennyworth. In 2005 Puleston-Davies co-wrote the television drama Dirty Filthy Love, winning a Royal Television Society award and a BAFTA nomination.

The next logical step for Puleston-Davies was to direct a feature film. And he had plenty of ideas. “I collect ideas for stories,” he explains. “And when I feel there enough pieces of the jigsaw, so the journey begins.” His embryonic script idea focused upon protagonists with a strong passion and fandom for a timeless artist. In this case, that artist is a ‘70s rock hero, Marc Bolan of T. Rex. That band’s “Metal Guru” was the first single Puleston-Davies had bought as a youngster.

Guitarist and songwriter Marc Bolan launched his band Tyrannosaurus Rex in London 1967. In its early days, Tyrannosaurus Rex released four albums of freaky psych-folk with titles like 1968’s My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. But by 1970 they had shortened their album titles… and their name.

The newly-christened T. Rex also changed its sound, developing a glam rock approach – and a visual persona to match. Working with producer Tony Visconti, they scored seven consecutive hit singles in the U.K.; each rose to the #1 or #2 spot on the charts; all told T. Rex landed 17 singles on the UK charts. Stateside, the band earned a Top Ten hit for their third single, “Get it On (Bang a Gong).”
In its later years, T. Rex even found fans among the burgeoning punk scene. Bolan perished in a September 1977 auto accident, but T. Rex’s legend lived on. The band’s sound and visual style influenced a generation of rockers.

“Marc was not only a great performer,” says Puleston-Davies, “but also a wonderful, wild and imaginative wordsmith.” He felt that both Bolan’s persona and his music would be right for his directorial debut. “T. Rex’s music takes no prisoners,” he enthuses. “That raunchy, unapologetic guitar sound blows away any sense of sentimentality.”

A familiarity of Bolan’s life and music is helpful to appreciating his significance in the story, but the director stresses that “it’s certainly not in any way essential.” At its core, Bolan’s Shoes is not about the rocker; instead it centers around fans who have kept the light of fandom burning more than 40 years after the rock star’s untimely death.

Those characters have stories of their own; the back story concerns their upbringing in Children’s Homes in Liverpool, England. Bolan and T. Rex serve as effective and resonant touchstones to help connect the personal narratives with the larger world. The film explores the long-term consequences of bullying, and Puleston-Davies hopes that viewers will come away from the film appreciating that snap conclusions about others – even those we know well – aren’t always on target.

Production took place during the strictest periods of the Covid-related lockdown, and writer-director Puleston-Davies says that was a mixed blessing. “The film probably wouldn’t have been made had there not been a pandemic,” he admits, “as I was meant to be filming Pennyworth for Warner Brothers!”

Puleston-Davies submitted Bolan’s Shoes for consideration for inclusion in the Poppy Jasper International Film Festival, but admits that he never expected the film to be chosen. “I couldn’t believe it when they rang me,” he says. “Bolan’s Shoes has a fascinating story with some tender moments that were beautifully written, filmed, and acted,” says Mattie Scarriot, director of the festival.

Puleston-Davies singles out lead actors Timothy Spall and Leanne Best for special praise. “They beautifully bring to life the characters that have lived in [my] head for so long,” he says. “But they also add so much more nuance, depth, complexity and humor to the parts. As an actor of 40 years myself, I have only now begun to appreciate that worth!”