‘Not everything’s political.’ The eponymous Jean utters these words 15 minutes into Georgia Oakley’s period drama, set in North East England during the ’80s, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything is political during Thatcher’s tenure – especially for gay and lesbians striving to live freely and authentically. Oakley doesn’t waste time capturing that oppressive ethos.
Babble from the heteronormative dating show Blind Date reguarly makes an appearance as do radio reports debating anti-gay laws (the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act) and conservative posters shouting: ‘Are your children being taught traditional moral values?’ Jean, a closeted school P.E. teacher, played with quiet warmth yet subtle anxiety by Rosy McEwen, is navigating a washed-out world. Her daily life of work, home and family, is bereft of colour. She wears a uniform of white and pale tones as if to disguise her true self, blend in and avoid whispers or potential accusations of influencing her students with a gay agenda. Her short, bleached blonde hair might be her only giveaway, but even that look is achieved by removing colour so her queer transformation isn’t fully transparent.
Only when in lesbian spaces does her world become more vibrant, more alive. Reds and pinks colour the frame of a nightclub and her girlfriend Viv’s home. Their sex scenes are sensual and passionate. Viv is a vivacious spirit that Kerrie Hayes imbues with heart. She forces Jean to confront her own complicity in the social marginalisation of gay and lesbian people. But that position isn’t easy when your career and salary is on the line. A spanner is thrown into the works when new girl Lois (Lucy Halliday) joins Jean’s school and poses a threat to her tightly curated image.
It’s a tale of self-acceptance, intergenerational solidarity and sapphic power
The arrival of Lois provides some narrative tension and pace to the film, but the script is more concerned with natural yet charged conversations between Jean and her students, co-workers, family and lesbian friends to plot the teacher’s character journey. To show, slowly but surely, that as much as Jean wants to stay out of the fight, the fight will come to her eventually.
Ultimately, Blue Jean is a non-judgmental tale of self-acceptance, intergenerational solidarity and sapphic power. You go, girl.
In UK cinemas Fri Feb 9