Opening with a delicate palette of pale blue mingling with warm peach hues, the aesthetics of Georgia Oakley’s debut feature Blue Jean—which just received its UK premiere at the 66th London Film Festival—are tender and beautiful, with a timeless grain from the 16mm film that it was shot on by cinematographer Victor Seguin. As a reflection on the damaging repercussions of Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28, which effectively prohibited teaching the acceptability of homosexuality, Blue Jean is incredibly emotive and impactful. Not only does the film present 1980s Britain through the lens of a lesbian teacher and divorcée, Jean (Rosy McEwan), but it is in part a coming-of-age story about Jean’s fifteen-year-old student Lois (Lucy Halliday). The intergenerational exchange between Jean and Lois helps to portray the scale of the harm caused by Thatcher’s homophobic legislation.
Blue Jean presents an epic love story between Jean and her partner Viv (Kerrie Hayes), but their relationship is not central to the film. This is important as an acknowledgement that the subject is far bigger than an individual’s romantic relationship. Oakley’s ability to present such passionate and intense feelings between them, enriched by McEwan’s outstanding performance, without overshadowing Jean’s personal journey of self-acceptance is fundamental in representing the LGBTQIA+ community beyond a romantic or sexual perspective.
There are moments of wry humour and irony which provide relief from the film’s heavy themes, including numerous queer coded in-jokes. Oakley plays upon lesbian tropes such as Jean being a vegetarian, owning a cat, and belonging to a group of friends who’ve all had sex with each other. Impressively, Oakley employs these stereotypes without reducing or tokenising lesbian identity and contrasts political punk styled lesbians, most notably Jean’s partner Viv, with Jean herself, whose appearance is masc yet there’s a softness to her.
The soundtrack, filled with 80s nostalgic queer anthems, is further elevated by Chris Roe’s emotive score which adds poignance to the wave of emotions that Jean experiences. A tender balance has been struck between the hedonistic, joyful elements of queer culture, epitomised by the underground lesbian bar hangout, and the anxiety and emotional turmoil experienced outside of safe spaces in Thatcher’s Britain.
Particularly striking is Oakley’s depiction of chosen family and a nurturing queer community. The emphasis on Lois discovering a place where she feels that she belongs as a younger lesbian is especially poignant. Portraying the resilience of grassroots systems in the face of oppression with examples of queer communal living and a fund created to support lesbians in need, Blue Jean is a moving representation of support and care within the lesbian community. This warmth is needed as the film strips bare the vilification and distrust harboured towards gay people by the government’s fearmongering, branding the queer community as predatory. Ultimately, we see Jean acknowledge and overcome parts of her trauma to bravery live authentically. As Viv observes in the film, everything is political and Blue Jean encourages us to reflect upon the fact that queer existence is inherently political.
By Katie McGoran
Blue Jean won the People’s Choice Award at the 79th Venice International Film Festival and received its UK premiere at the 66th BFI London Film Festival. It will be distributed in the UK by Altitude Films in 2023.