In 1988, a closeted teacher is pushed to the brink when a new student threatens to expose her sexuality.
Sometimes an independent film comes along that you go and see without knowing much about it, with little expectation, only for it to really impress you, and ‘Blue Jean’ is one of those movies. Directed by Georgia Oakley in her feature debut, ‘Blue Jean’ tells the story of a closeted school teacher trying to balance her personal and professional life in 1988 Newcastle just as Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government are about to bring in a new law that would prohibit the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools in the United Kingdom. Her double life is threatened upon the arrival of a new pupil, who immediately takes a shine to her and discovers her secret.
Jean’s (Rosy McEwen) double life begins during the day when she heads to the secondary school where she teaches P.E., before finishing up in a local gay bar with her girlfriend Viv (Kerrie Hayes) and their friends. Jean is shy and reserved and resists attempts to socialise with her colleagues, and even in the bar environment she seems hesitant, frightened of the consequences of being discovered to be a lesbian. Viv, on the other hand, is ‘out’, and the differences between their attitudes to their sexuality regularly cause conflict between them. Jean and Viv’s relationship is superbly written and brilliantly acted by McEwen and Hayes, raw and real and your heart breaks at how the circumstances of the time often comes between their happiness. Rosy McEwen it would be fair to say is relatively unknown (although she did get down to the final two for Saoirse Ronan’s role in ‘Atonement’, which must have stung massively), but I suspect she won’t be after this outstanding performance.
The movie is wonderfully constructed by Georgia Oakley, who builds a narrative that focuses on Jean’s personal life, while allowing the political elements to sit in the background and at important points come to the fore to impact on the characters. This is never truer than in the sequences at the school, where a new girl Lois (Lucy Halliday, also excellent) joins and takes a shine to Jean when she discovers she is a lesbian. Added into the mix is another student, Siobhan (Lydia Page), who we can tell also has suspicions about who Jean really is, which adds a strange kind of suspense to scenes of ordinary Netball practice, with the knowledge of what would happen to Jean if any of these pupils revealed who she was. Coupled with the relationship and familial drama, it makes for a film that explores Jean’s life and the time period superbly with each element complementing rather than conflicting with one another.
The movie builds to a crescendo with events at the school culminating in Jean being forced into making a difficult, and dare I say unsympathetic choice, and ‘Blue Jean’ is all the better for making us empathise with the challenges of balancing your moral compass with the realities of wanting to avoid disruption to your life. I thought this was a terrific movie, a showcase for some previously unknown (or new) talents, and I really hope it does find the audience that it deserves. Also, glad to see ‘Blind Date’ getting a retrospective kicking for the regressive rubbish that it always was, even at the time!
Directed By: Georgia Oakley
Starring: Rosy McEwen, Kerrie Hayes, Lucy Halliday and Lydia Page