wed 17/04/2024

Blu-ray: Beautiful Thing | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Beautiful Thing

Blu-ray: Beautiful Thing

Much-loved film adaptation of a classic 1990s play has aged well

Looking forward: Tameka Empson, Glen Berry and Scott Neal in 'Beautiful Thing'

Beautiful Thing’s opening scene plays out like a sweary take on Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl, Meera Syal’s potty-mouthed PE teacher lambasting her Year 11 pupils with language that would now have her hauled up in front of a professional conduct panel.

Originally a stage play, writer Jonathan Harvey’s screenplay drew upon his own experiences as an English teacher in South East London, and the banter, as funny as it’s cruel, struck me as painfully accurate. 1996 seems like another world – a time when Clause 28 forbade local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality, and the age of consent for gay men was still 21. Harvey and director Hettie MacDonald’s depiction of a relationship between two 16-year old boys was bolder than it may seem now; Beautiful Thing is funny, tender and ultimately uplifting, but full of sharp edges.

Glen Berry plays Jamie, living in a cramped flat with his sharp-tongued mother Sandra (Linda Henry). She’s the most compelling character, Harvey’s script filling in her backstory as the film unwinds. Next door lives Ste (Scott Neal), cooped up with an abusive father and a drug-dealing older sibling, and it’s Sandra’s kindness that sets the plot in motion, inviting Ste to stay over after a brutal beating. Setting the action in Thamesmead, a huge, isolated concrete estate famously used by Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange was a stroke of genius, director of photography Chris Seager giving the buildings and lakes a utopian sheen.

Beautiful thing packshotJamie and Ste’s burgeoning relationship is depicted with rare sweetness. The boys initially sleep “top to toe” in Jamie’s bed, carefully avoiding the elephant in the bedroom, until Jamie soothes the bruises inflicted by Ste’s dad using his mum’s peppermint lotion (“it’s from The Body Shop”). Sandra’s tryst with the lovable but vacuous Tony (Ben Daniels, here resembling Mackenzie Crook) doesn’t seem quite so durable. There’s also Tameka Empson’s Leah, recently excluded from the boys’ school and fond of playing Mama Cass records at maximum volume, her exasperated mother at breaking point. Harvey always offsets the darker moments – the glimpses of Sandra’s past, Ste’s violent father and the homophobic abuse suffered by Jamie at school – with wit and warmth. The dialogue, sadly unquotable in this review, is often hysterically funny, and the sense of relief as the boys’ confidence grows and the problems faced by the supporting cast are resolved, is overwhelming. We’re almost as excited about Sandra’s pub landlady opportunity as we are to see Jamie and Ste dancing in the sun as Beautiful Thing closes.

Image quality is excellent, and there’s a slew of enticing extras. We get a 2023 Q&A with Harvey, MacDonald and several cast members, and a 1974 featurette about the joys of living in Thamesmead. Writer, director and assistant director Susie Liggat provide a commentary and a packed booklet even includes an essay on Cass Elliot by BFI stalwart Vic Pratt.

The buildings and lakes have a utopian sheen

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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