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Nighthawks (1978)


Main image of Nighthawks (1978)
16mm, colour, 113 mins
Written, Produced &Ron Peck,
Directed byPaul Hallam
Production Nashburgh,
CompaniesFour Corners Films
ScreenplayRon Peck
 Paul Hallam

Cast: Ken Robertson (Jim); Tony Westrope (Mike); Rachel Nicholas James (Judy); Maureen Dolan (Pat); Stuart Craig Turton (Neal); Clive Peters (Peter); Robert Merrick (John)

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The story of a man who leads a double life: a respectable geography teacher by day; by night, hanging out in gay bars, looking for a longterm relationship, but usually encountering only one-night stands.

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Nighthawks was Ron Peck's first feature film, co-written with Paul Hallam, who also assisted the direction. It took Peck more than two years to raise funding for the film, which included a large investment from German television.

It was Britain's first explicitly gay film set in the gay community. Previously, gay characters in British films were either peripheral or problematised, as in Victim (d. Basil Dearden, 1961). In Nighthawks, we see for the first time what it is like to be a young, single gay man in London.

Jim (Ken Robertson, the film's only professional actor) is a geography teacher in a secondary school in East London. He spends much of his time visiting clubs and bars trying to find men to have sex with. On the one hand, the film celebrates the freedom of this lifestyle, especially as gay sex was legalised only ten years earlier and gay men and women still faced a lot of prejudice. On the other hand, Nighthawks is honest in its depiction of an endless round of erotic encounters that, to Jim's frustration, never develop into a lasting relationship. Consequently, although he is open about being gay, he lies to his female friend Judy about having a steady boyfriend.

One of the film's most powerful scenes is at the end. A new class joins Jim's regular pupils. Having heard rumours that Jim is gay, they directly confront him about it. He responds with great honesty and answers their questions, which are often based on ignorance and prejudice, in a matter-of-fact manner. Later he has to justify his actions to the headmaster, who is concerned that parents will object to the discussion of homosexuality in the classroom. Jim argues the importance of confronting prejudice and educating young people about the truth about being gay.

This is a key scene for the audience as Jim opens up to the class, which becomes his audience. The expectation is that, having had the courage to confront the prejudices of the class and his headmaster, Jim will become content and more decisive about his life. However, the film remains true to the realities of life. In the end, Jim is still frequenting the same discos and bars, trying to find a man who will make him happy.

Helen de Witt

*This film available on BFI DVD and Blu-ray.

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Video Clips
1. The pick-up (3:50)
2. Classroom interrogation (6:53)
Jarman, Derek (1942-1994)
Peck, Ron (1948-)