Review: Blue Jean
- VENICE 2022: The feature debut by the UK’s Georgia Oakley tells of the difficulties of being gay in Thatcher’s Britain through the story of a teacher forced to conceal her identity
It can’t be easy being gay in a country where, by law, a homosexual is equated to a paedophile, let alone if you work as a teacher. This was the situation in Margaret Thatcher’s England, and it’s precisely this that British director Georgia Oakley portrays in her feature debut, Blue Jean [+see also:
interview: Georgia Oakley
film profile], selected (in competition) for the 19th Giornate degli Autori at Venice.
It’s 1988, and the Thatcher administration has just passed a law that likens homosexuals to paedophiles, since they are lumped in together as leading a “deviant” lifestyle (a homophobic amendment called “Section 28” that remained in force until 2003). Jean (Rosy McEwen) is a highly respected gym teacher who has a great rapport with her students. By day, she provides first-rate training to the girls on the school netball team, while by night she secretly frequents gay clubs where she meets up with her girlfriend Viv (Kerrie Hayes) and her lesbian friends. From the mass media at the time, we get a whiff of widespread and creeping homophobia, through news bulletins, talk shows and billboards – homophobia that is also insidiously reflected in Jean’s entourage both at work and within her family. The woman knows that if her colleagues were to discover her true identity, she would lose her job and it would be nigh-on impossible for her to find another one. At that time, a gay teacher was inconceivable because “young people have vulnerable minds”, and the general sentiment was that this “lesbianism epidemic” had to be stamped out somehow.
It therefore comes as no surprise that when a problematic new female student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), ends up visiting the same gay bar that Jean frequents, the latter will enter a spiral of paranoia so intense that she will start to lose sleep over it, putting her relationship with Viv in serious jeopardy. Jean, who was once married to a man (much to the delight of her sanctimonious sister), feels as though she is gradually being hemmed in, and is convinced that there is no place in society for people like her. In contrast with her friends from the bar and even Viv herself, who has definitely made her mind up when it comes to her own identity, Jean hides herself away in any way possible, but the situation gets increasingly out of hand, since the impetuous young Lois’s presence becomes an ever more urgent threat and sets off a number of uncontrollable chain reactions.
A good part of the film rests on Rosy McEwen and, specifically, her face, which gracefully expresses all of the nuances of her character’s inner journey and creeping anguish, and also the shame she experiences for herself because she hasn’t managed to establish herself as a role model of pride and freedom for young Lois. The director, who also penned the screenplay, slickly (and not without a sense of irony) captures the bedrock of homophobia and patriarchy that, in those years when AIDS was spreading, also oozes from the most mundane of conversations. And with Jean, Oakley has created a real, authentic character, with her fears and her pettiness, a character that’s easy to empathise with – to the extent that we feel exactly as uncomfortable as she does in her own skin.
(Translated from Italian)
Photogallery 03/09/2022: Venice 2022 - Blue Jean
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