Our third members’ choice film of the season, Georgia Oakley’s debut feature, set in the North East of England in the late-1980s, centres on Jean, played by Rosy McEwen, a PE teacher at a secondary school who finds herself being educated by circumstance. This is because of the tensions of her discreet sexuality, and particularly her romance with Viv, played by Kerrie Hayes, in the oppressive climate created by the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) which prohibited the promotion by teaching “of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
The catalyst for the drama is the arrival of a new pupil at the school, played by Lucy Halliday, but the strength of the film is less in the relatively conventional plot than in the way it successfully captures the mood of the time, both visually and musically. Some of the tropes are well-worn, from schoolgirl jealousies and bullying to butch dykes on mortorbikes, but they work well here precisely because of their accuracy in the context of the period and the sincerity and quality of the acting.
What stands out is the way the film foregrounds the camaraderie and defiance of the LGBT community in the face of both official censure and the antagonism of wider society that Section 28 legitimised, which makes what appears at first to be a downbeat tale into something uplifting and finally inspiring.
“Oakley’s restrained yet powerfully poised film doesn’t shoot for fuzzy big-picture universality. Instead it draws one stymied life with such texture and precision that you can see any number of others reflected in it, their identities as certain and inalienable as their rights.” – Guy Lodge, Variety
“A supremely accomplished debut feature from writer-director Georgia Oakley, Blue Jean captures a specific moment in British history with almost uncanny accuracy.” – Wendy Ide, Observer