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Rosy McEwen is outstanding as a teacher facing up to prejudice in Georgia Oakley’s superb Thatcher-era drama.
At the 1987 Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced to delegates, ‘Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay’. The attitude became manifest in the Section 28 bill, which prohibited teaching the acceptability of homosexuality in British schools. It’s a decision that tears Tyneside teacher Jean’s life in two. A recent divorcée, Jean is gay. Her close family know it, but she has kept it a secret from her colleagues and pupils. Her reticence to come out causes angst with her girlfriend Viv (Kerry Hayes). But things come to a head when a new pupil, 15-year-old Lois (Lucy Halliday), turns up at the gay bar Jean, Viv and their friends frequent. Should Jean be more open and risk her career, or remain silent, suggesting to Lois there is shame in who she is?
Oakley’s film perfectly captures Britain at the end of the Thatcherite era, but wisely keeps period references to a minimum. Likewise, although Section 28 is regularly discussed on TV and radio throughout the film, it’s the human drama of Jean’s predicament that Oakley focuses on. McEwen is startlingly good as Jean, conveying her confusion as her working life conflicts with who she is. Blue Jean is a reminder of the destructive nature of prejudice, whether it’s the throwaway yet hurtful comments of pupils or teachers, or the oppressive acts of government.