Blue Jean


Cineworld, Edinburgh

It’s hard to remember sometimes, from our current vantage point, just how deeply ingrained homophobia was in 1980s Britain. Writer/director Georgia Oakley’s debut film takes us back to 1988, and the implementation of Margaret Thatcher’s controversial Clause 28, which explicitly banned schools and local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. I was in sixth form then, and I mostly remember finding it ridiculous – as if, without the clause, there would be advertisements everywhere. “Come on, kids! Be gay! It’s great!” But I only had the luxury of dismissing it as stupid because I was straight. I don’t know how it made the gay kids feel. I didn’t know anyone who said they were gay back then (although, of course, many have come out since). I don’t blame them for keeping schtum. I don’t remember the schoolyard as a place that celebrated difference.

Jean (Rosy McEwen) is a PE teacher. She’s also a lesbian, recently divorced from her husband, and enjoying a new relationship with Viv (Kerrie Hayes). But while Viv is at ease with herself – out and proud and politically engaged – Jean is less confident about her sexual identity. She’s still keen to fit in with the heteronormative world; she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself, either at school or with her family. It’s a matter of survival: however shocking it may seem, she’s right to fear her that job is on the line. She manages by drawing a clear distinction between work and home: she lives in a different town from the one she teaches in, and refuses drinks invitations from her colleagues. Her social life revolves around a gay club and a lesbian commune, and here she’s free to be herself.

Until fifteen-year-old Lois (Lucy Halliday) shows up in the club. She’s belligerent and bold – and she’s also Jean’s student. Suddenly, Jean’s worlds collide. Her carefully segregated life is under threat, and she’s torn between fight or flight.

Oakley’s script gives us a clear insight into the era, and into the overt discrimination that permeated popular culture. McEwen shows us a young woman forced into a choice she doesn’t want to make: she has to be a hero or a failure; she can’t just be; the government’s weird preoccupation with consenting adults’ sex lives has a profound impact on real people. Hayes is heartbreaking as Viv, whose clear-eyed view never dulls her pain, and newcomer Halliday is mesmerising on the screen.

Clause 28 was finally repealed in 2003, and things have certainly improved – although, of course, there’s still a way to go. Blue Jean serves as an important reminder of why we can’t ever relax our vigilance, and why we mustn’t let things slide. People’s lives and happiness depend on it.

4 stars

Susan Singfield


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