Blue Jean – Film Review
by David Turpin
Director/ Writer – Georgia Oakley
Stars – Rosy McEwen, Kerrie Hayes, Lucy Halliday
A striking first feature by writer-director Georgia Oakley, Blue Jean takes place under the shadow of ‘Clause 28’, the Thatcher government’s 1988 enactment of a series of laws prohibiting the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities. The influence of the clause was most deeply felt in schools, and this is where Blue Jean takes place, in a Newcastle upon Tyne co-ed evoked with pin-sharp period acuity.
The film’s heroine is Jean, rivetingly played by Rosy McEwen, in her first lead role. Jean has compartmentalised her life: a PE teacher by profession, she is popular with her students and politely guarded with her colleagues (including a memorably bumptious Lainey Shaw). Outside school hours, she lives one of the versions of life available to lesbians in this time and place: she socialises carefully, if not outright secretly; she has a relationship with a woman named Viv (charismatically played by Kerrie Hayes) that is subtly bedevilled by the myriad small compromises involved in Jean’s insistence upon living ‘discreetly’. Jean’s house of cards starts to wobble with the arrival of a new student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), in whom she perhaps sees certain echoes of herself.
The strength of Oakley’s film is its subtlety. It does not take the expected path of nudging Jean toward outright politicised rebellion. Rather, it explores – incisively but sympathetically – the ways in which Jean has internalised the strictures of her society, the ways in which she elects to suppress herself. From the opening scene – in which she dyes her hair, reflection bifurcated by the mirrored bathroom cabinet – we see both her fragile pride in the self she has created and the contingency of this self. In loaded interactions with her family, we see how their ‘acceptance’ is predicated on an expectation that Jean wear her sexual identity with an implicit shame – as a ‘misfortune’ that has befallen her, or that she may have ‘brought on herself’.
The turns of the plot eventually bring Jean to a dilemma that will not be spoiled here. However, it can be said that her actions are both totally understandable and wince-inducingly painful. Such is the world in which she finds herself, and with which she has made her accommodations. Watching her navigate these accommodations, and seeing her dawning realisation that she may have sold herself short is moving, unsettling, and at times genuinely suspenseful. McEwen’s is a remarkably lucid performance, and this is a great debut for Oakley.
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