England, 1988 — Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government is about to pass a law stigmatizing gays and lesbians, forcing Jean, a gym teacher, to live a double life. As pressure mounts from all sides, the arrival of a new girl at school catalyzes a crisis that will challenge Jean to her core.
Blue Jean, a moving lesbian focused drama, shows how morality divorced from compassion and human dignity becomes a corrosive force for everyone involved.
In 1987, during the height of Margaret Thatcher’s rule, and the mid rise of the gay rights movement, the conservatives in Britain where in a tizzy about how “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.” This lead to the 1988 law, called section28, that prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools. This should be very familiar to anyone who lives in Florida and has watched the very public feud between Ron Desantis and Disney over the “don’t say gay” law. A case of dumb history repeating itself to those who never listened in the first place.
Blue Jean sets its story in this repressive period. Broadcasts of Thatcher’s proclamations blare in the background as the movie’s protagonist, Jean (Rosy McEwen), navigates between her life as a lesbian and her life as a high school gym teacher. She has acknowledged her essential gay identity to her inner self, but outside of her family, not to the regular straight world. She has divorced her husband, bleached her hair blonde, started wearing masculine clothes. She is in love with an out and proud butch lesbian, Viv (Kerrie Hayes). Jean’s friends that she clubs with are also proudly un-closeted.
As a teacher, she comes off to her fellow educators as a tomboy who is good at teaching physical education and discovering athletic talent. Fearing of being outed, forces her to keep colleagues and students at arm length. Jean’s equilibrium is disturbed when Lois (Lucy Halliday), a student just starting to acknowledge her lesbian identity, and who reminds Jean of her younger self, starts being bullied by the popular girls suspicious of her sexual being. Lois fights back with her fists. A cruel shower trick forces Jean to either defend Lois or keep silent.
Blue Jean uses Jean’s terror of the personal and public consequences of helping Lois to sharpen Jean’s own internal conflicts. Conversations about lesbian aggression had her breaking out in hives. She deals with it in angst and agitated silence. Rosy Mcewen delivers a totally committed performance.
Blue Jean not only gets the details of the era right (the mop haircuts, the new order music, even the neon gender symbols at the lesbian bar), but also how the nuanced understanding of the political circumstances of that time created separate, secret worlds and existences. Jean moves through both of them, a vase waiting to be toppled over and broken. Blue Jean shows the resilience lesbians needed to keep themselves from breaking apart in the scorn of the straight world.
Blue Jean gets a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+.
Chris Roe, Stavros Papanikolaou
- 3 September 2022(Venice)
- 10 February 2023