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Beautiful Thing (1996)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Beautiful Thing (1996)
DirectorHettie Macdonald
Production CompanyWorld Productions
 Channel Four
ProducerTony Garnett
 Bill Shapter
Written byJonathan Harvey
Based on the play byJonathan Harvey
Director of PhotographyChris Seager

Cast: Glen Berry (Jamie Gangel); Linda Henry (Sandra Gangel); Scott Neal (Ste Pearce); Ben Daniels (Tony); Tameka Empson (Leah)

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During a hot summer on Thamesmead housing estate in South East London, two teenage lads find themselves drawn together.

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The mid-1990s was a watershed period for independent gay and lesbian film, not only because of the number of feature and short films being made, but because of the critical interest which accompanied them. Contemporary in its subject matter and style, Beautiful Thing (1995) offered a multicultural perspective of post-Thatcher Britain. The film was written by Jonathan Harvey and marked the debut of young director Hettie MacDonald, who had emerged from a theatre background, having directed her first West End play at 24.

Known for race riots, high unemployment and social deprivation in the mid-1980s, the South East London council estate Thamesmead is transformed, thanks to Chris Seager's cinematography, into an almost magical place, overlooking a lake bathed in sunlight. In this respect, Beautiful Thing is unusual among British films, which, where they portray the gay community or working classes at all, rarely offer such as a positive portrait of love developing over a long sweltering summer.

Touching and funny in a way comparable to My Beautiful Laundrette (d. Stephen Frears, 1985) and Young Soul Rebels (d. Isaac Julien, 1991), Beautiful Thing manages to appeal to a young mainstream audience. The narrative easily encompasses difficult issues of racism, homophobia, violence, sex and drug use within the disenfranchised underclass of a two-tier Britain, while lightly but acutely depicting a teenage gay romance.

Beautiful Thing emerged from the New Queer Cinema movement, which strove to invest the previously negative term 'queer' with a range of new, exciting and positive meanings in politics and filmmaking. The success of the film seemed to suggest that a substantial number of people were more accepting of homosexuality than previously.

As an urban love story, Beautiful Thing wears its politics lightly, but it is subversive nevertheless. The central romance is one between two 16-year-old boys - then well below the age of consent - making this a light-hearted film steeped in socio-political significance.

Beautiful Thing premiered at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in 1996, where it collected the award for best film. In the same year, it was selected for the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sonya Williams

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Video Clips
1. Mama Cass (2:22)
2. Jamie and Ste (2:55)
3. Telling Mum (4:39)
Production stills
Garnett, Tony (1936-)
Syal, Meera (1962-)
Channel 4 and Film