Margaret Thatcher’s reign as the United Kingdom’s prime minister in the ‘80s remains incredibly controversial, with her being one of Britain’s most hated political figures. Against the backdrop of Thatcher’s divisive rule, “Blue Jean” artfully navigates the oppressive landscape of 1980s England, capturing the struggle for acceptance, love and self-discovery in a crucial chapter of LGBT history that continues to shape the present.
Jean (Rose McEwen), a P.E. teacher at a secondary school, leads a double life. While she is a lesbian and regularly visits a gay bar with her girlfriend, Viv (Kerrie Hayes), and the rest of her friend group, she is deeply closeted outside of that. Reserved and standoffish at school, Jean sequesters her identity as a lesbian from the rest of her life, even as it presents challenges to her relationship with her friends and Viv. Yet, with the arrival of a new student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), who discovers Jean’s secret, Jean is pushed to extreme lengths to keep her job — and keep her identity hidden.
McEwen shines in “Blue Jean” and is nothing short of extraordinary. She captures the depth of her character’s despair even during moments of silence. As the pressure mounts from all sides, McEwen masterfully portrays Jean’s inner turmoil and conflict through subtle facial expressions, gestures and intonations. Her portrayal ultimately leaves a lasting impression on the audience. Alongside some fantastic work from co-stars Hayes and Halliday, “Blue Jean” quickly emerges as a fantastic, reflective film elevated by its talented actors.
Jean’s journey is marked by her mistakes and actions she at times feels ashamed of, whether it’s downplaying her relationship with Viv or betraying her convictions to save her job and reputation. While viewers may not always agree with the decisions she makes, it’s impossible not to feel sympathetic to her plight. The film’s nuanced approach highlights the intricacies of her struggles and ultimately provides a compassionate lens through which to view her struggles.
“Blue Jean” exceptionally captures the essence of Thatcher-era homophobia and politics, delivering a poignant and immersive experience. From the film’s opening moments, a palpable tension permeates the atmosphere, vividly reflecting the oppressive social climate of the time. Through meticulous storytelling, the film lays bare the vulnerabilities of those who dare to defy social norms, providing a gripping exploration of the prevailing wave of homophobia in England at the time.
There is an unexpected eeriness to some of the scenes in “Blue Jean.” The casual and blatant homophobia expressed by some of the characters, as well as the discussion of homophobic policies and talking points over the radio, all of which evoke a chilling sense of reality: Despite taking place in 1988, the film feels chillingly modern, as the hard-won progress it demonstrates is chipped away each day and homophobic policies are put into place across the globe.
One of the film’s strengths lies in its period-accurate aesthetics, effectively transporting viewers back to the era. The slightly grainy and aged footage adds another layer of authenticity to the film and lends the film narrative immersion and a compelling visual experience. Alongside a warm embrace of the vibrant variation in lesbian fashion, the film is rich with aesthetic appeal.
“Blue Jean” stands out as a powerful portrayal of the challenges faced by lesbians during Thatcher’s rule as prime minister. The film explores the difficult juggling act of living in the closet and offers a poignant exploration of the price one pays for social acceptance during times of extreme political and social hostility. “Blue Jean” emerges as a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant cinematic experience that, while set in the past, discusses issues that are as prominent as ever.