Venice Review: Georgia Oakleys Blue Jean
A lesbian gym teacher navigates Margaret Thatcher’s Britain under the “Section 28” law in Blue Jean, Georgia Oakley’s debut feature premiering in the Venice Days section of the Venice Film Festival.
While it was featured in the recent documentary Rebel Dykes, the impact of Section 28 has rarely been shown on screen, especially from a female perspective, helping to make Blue Jean a refreshing and educational watch.
Section 28 was a 1988-2003 law introduced by Prime Minster Thatcher’s Conservative government, banning local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” in the UK. Protests were rife, but many gay women and men felt compelled to keep their sexuality a secret.
Jean (Rosy McEwen) is one such person. She teaches at an all-girls school, and is clearly mindful of the impact of any gossip about her private life, or her conduct. At night, she goes to gay bars with her girlfriend Viv (Kerrie Hayes), where she can almost relax. But when Jean’s sister comes round asking for babysitting favors, Jean shuts down again, aware that the law has made her a suspicious figure even to her family.
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It’s a vivid account of a life lived partially in secret, and the impact on everyone involved, from Jean to Viv to the girls in gym class. One of these is Lois (Lucy Halliday), a new pupil who struggles to fit in, and whom Jean spots in a gay bar. Conflicts and moral dilemmas abound, but they’re not always what you might expect.
Not all of the dialogue in Blue Jean feels convincing — the occasional politically correct statement feels too modern for 80s Newcastle, for example. But there’s a palpable sense of sisterhood in the scenes at Viv’s home, which operates as a communal safe haven for lesbians, some of whom have been rejected by their families. And the emotions felt by its complex female lead certainly convince, despite being mostly held inside. McEwen leads a very effective cast in this poignant personal-political drama, which also happens to have a cracking retro soundtrack.
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