Thursday, February 16, 2023


The 1980s were a dark time in England - strikes, recession, homophobic scares over AIDS and then, as a direct consequence of fear of the "gay plague", the introduction of Section 28, preventing local governments from "promoting" the gay lifestyle. Overnight a bunch of schoolteachers, who were probably closeted anyway because society was homophobic, found themselves at genuine risk of losing their jobs if outed. Never mind if they were good at their jobs and really cared about the kids they taught.  The fact that they were "deviants" precluded them from being teachers.

Georgia Oakley's assured debut feature, BLUE JEAN, is an attempt to dramatise the moral quandary Section 28 put teachers in, as 'don't ask don't tell' forced them back into the closet. It centres on a dedicated and charismatic sports teacher called Jean, played by Rosy McEwan. She is out to her family but not to her school, and in a relationship with the more comfortably out Viv (Kerrie Hayes).  The fact that Jean is more guarded is already a source of tension in their relationship, even before Section 28 announces its presence on news reports.  When it comes, it's a heavy bludgeon of prejudice on top of a deep layer of heteronormative pop culture, as symbolised here by the iconic 80s dating show, Blind Date.  Matters are brought to a head when new girl Lois (Lucy Halliday) sees Jean in a gay social club and clearly looks to her for support as she's bullied at school. The question is whether Jean will compromise her secrecy to stand up for Lois and what is right. 

What I like about this film is that it's willing to show its lead character as morally compromised but not judge her harshly for that. At the end of the film there's a wonderfully joyous gay social and one of the activist members of the group explains to Lois that the people in the closet who are in professional jobs help in their own way, by donating money to the cause. The viewer may or may not find peace with that, but given the clearly depicted nastiness of the environment I have a lot of sympathy with it. 

I also love that this is one of the few films that I can remember that centres the lesbian experience, and Northern lesbians at that!  Moreover, it depicts a vibrant, supportive, wonderfully vital lesbian culture through the social club and squat. Even more rare, the film shows a lesbian couple enjoying sex and intimacy in a way that feels authentic and does not pander to the male or straight gaze. In so many ways, this film is unique and wonderfully unapologetic. 

Finally, I really love writer-director Georgie Oakley's colour palette and framing, and the lead performances. I defy anyone not to cheer with joy when Jean finally tells a misogynistic suburban divorcee that she's gay. But for the most part her character is more slippery, subtle and nuanced and all the better for that. 

BLUE JEAN has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated 15. It played Venice and London 2022 and is currently on release in the UK.

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