A closeted school teacher worries about being outed to her colleagues in Blue Jean
Winner of the Venice Film Festival People’s Choice award, Blue Jean is the debut feature film from British writer/director Georgia Oakley. A quietly powerful film that pairs a key part not-so-distant LGBTQ history with an intimate character study, it announces Oakley and her star Rosy McEwan as forces to be reckoned with.
1988, North East England and Margaret Thatchers Conservative government are about to pass a controversial bit of new legislation that will stigmatise the gay and lesbian community. The infamous section 28 made it illegal for schools to teach about or ‘normalise’ gay lifestyles in school. Its damage is still being felt today.
Jean is a secondary school PE teacher and closeted lesbian. While she spends her nights happily with her girlfriend Viv (Kerrie Hayes) or partying away at a Newcastle lesbian bar her life is carefully segregated, carefully hiding her private life at school and around her family she worries that her sexuality could cost her her job. When a new pupil arrives at the school and gets Jean into a situation where she could be outed, she faces an agonising decision over how to react.
Oakley brilliantly uses the media throughout Blue Jean to link a simple personal story to a wider societal issue. Jean’s world feels claustrophobic as she is bombarded by media telling her there is something wrong with her, that her life is dangerous or unacceptable. The TV is constantly playing the painfully heteronormative Blind Date with Cilla Black. AIDS crisis posters adorn the staff room walls. Real recordings of Thatcher and her parliament extol the virtues of protecting children from ‘deviants.’
It feels like Jean is being pulled in a million different directions, her friends in the community wanting more from her while her colleagues and family want her to be someone she’s not. A woman still figuring out who she wants to present as in the world, it’s a sensitively done bit of realism. Where so much of modern queer media is about pride, role models and standing up for what’s right, Blue Jean is an important reminder of what it took for us to get to this point. Of how hard and how costly it can be to strike out and be different.
It’s a fantastic central performance from Rosy McEwan who takes the audience on a powerful emotional journey. When the situation at her school comes to a head the result is genuinely quite harrowing, made all the harder to bear by Oakley’s intelligent script in which we can see there is no way of winning. Yet for the crushing lows, the highs are equally effective. During one euphoric moment there was an audible cheer in the cinema I watched this in (in a press screening no less! A generally miserable bunch.)
A powerful film about learning to love yourself when the whole world is telling you not to, Blue Jean is a poignant personal story that provides an important reminder of a painful transitional time in British history. A brilliant debut well worth your time.
Blue Jean has been reviewed as part of the BFI London Film Festival. It will be released in cinemas by Altitude Films on 24th February 2023