A documentary nearly four years in the making, Dalton’s Dream is a compelling and occasionally disturbing portrait of one young man’s turbulent journey within the music industry. Dalton Harris won the last series of the X-Factor in 2018 which felt should have been a springboard to the career he always wished for. Instead he discovered that there are far greater things at play than just talent.

X-Factor was far from the cultural juggernaut it once was by the time the personable Jamaican won the series, but he still assumed it would be a solid basis for a career in music. And Dalton had more reason than most to want to settle permanently in the UK away from the country of his birth. Fighting off rumours about his sexuality which led to horrendous homophobic abuse and death threats, the prospect of a return to Jamaica may be a literal matter of life and death. Documentary veteran Kim Longinotto and colleague Franky Murray Brown follow the thoughtful, sensitive singer as he talks openly about his struggles with his mental health, his hopes for his career, and see him gingerly pick a path to self-acceptance.

The filmmakers wisely take a back seat, allowing their subject to dictate the narrative. This allows us to see all the more clearly the subtle manipulations placed on Dalton from those who profess to be in his corner; managers, record label reps, and producers among them. It also shows just how strong-willed he is, refusing to compromise what he sees as very much his art and his passion – not at all just a product – for the guarantee of a few sales. He also makes the unimaginably courageous decision to travel to Jamaica to play the country’s biggest reggae festival, defiant in the face of very plausible threats against his person.

That’s what makes Dalton a fascinating subject, even for those who have no interest in the machinations and vicissitudes of the pop meat grinder. There’s no sense of self-deception or arrogance, or naivety about the situation he’s in. He frets over the year-long delay it takes to release a single. His work ethic is prodigious, and his candid through processes all indicate a young man of considerable wit and eloquence.

The presentation is a little choppy, hopping back and forth between Dalton’s journey through the music industry, and his earlier life in Jamaica including a slightly confusing narrative regarding his abusive upbringing with his mother. But this is made up for by Dalton himself as a subject. His hopes for superstardom may not have turned out that quite as he had intended, but his acceptance of himself is a far more uplifting and inspiring outcome than any number 1 record could ever be.

On general release Fri 2 Feb 2024