Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Beautiful Thing

1996, UK, directed by Hettie MacDonald

Beautiful Thing is a strong entry in a cycle of 1990's British films that moved beyond (often dour) kitchen-sink realism to take a more upbeat, hopeful look at aspects of working class life; this film is especially unusual in tackling the theme of gay teens coming to an understanding of themselves. The two boys, Jamie and Ste, at the heart of the story live in a London tower block, and Beautiful Thing narrates their experiences over one memorable summer. Here, the flats are a relatively peaceful enclave, with general racial harmony and a strong sense of community, but homophobia is alive and well, with nasty slurs slung thick and fast as local suspicions are raised.

Glen Berry and Scott Neal (who went to the same theatre school) are excellent as Jamie and Ste, respectively, capturing the boys' conflicted feelings with a convincing mix of sweetness, vulnerability and hostility; director Hettie MacDonald's touch with the other actors is equally assured, with winning performances from Linda Henry (as Jamie's mum), Tameka Empson (as their corrosive, Mama Cass-loving neighbour) and Ben Daniels (as Jamie's mum's beau). Although the film is undoubtedly a little schematic - overall, coming out has rarely seemed this easy - it's got exceptional charm, telling its story with wit and an enjoyable sense of place; it seems a shame, then, that it's ghettoised for most viewers by appearing in the 'gay interest' section of the video store when it belongs with every other exuberant youthful romance.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States