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Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1990)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1990)
BBC, tx. 10-24/1/1990
3x55 min episodes, colour
DirectorBeeban Kidron
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerPhillippa Giles
AdaptationJeanette Winterson
Author of the Original WorkJeanette Winterson
MusicRachel Portman

Cast: Geraldine McEwan (Mother), Emily Aston (Jess as a child), Charlotte Coleman (Jess as a teenager), Kenneth Cranham (Pastor Sprott), David Thewlis (Doctor), Elizabeth Spriggs (May)

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Seven-year-old Jess is ordered to go to school, beginning the long process of her gaining independence from her mother's strict Pentecostal beliefs.

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Adapted by Jeanette Winterson from her own semi-autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit burst onto television screens in January 1990, in a blaze of pre-publicity. It inherited BBC2's Wednesday night 'serious drama' slot, previously occupied by the likes of Dennis Potter.

Today, more than 10 years later, one can't help wondering why so much was made of its lesbian aspect. The more powerful theme is the fight between the individual and a rigid and repressive society, manifested in Jess's (Charlotte Coleman) struggle to become her own person, rejecting the strict control of her mother (Geraldine McEwan) and of patriarchy, in the form of the church and Pastor Finch (Kenneth Cranham). She emerges to find a new world of possibilities - leaving home, her first proper job, a place at university. The individual in this case wins out over society, making this a piece of timeless drama just as relevant to modern audiences.

The drama uses conventions of televisual reality, grounding the drama in the real world, making it more accessible for the viewer and more easily appropriated by them. Without this convention the more fantastical elements of the drama might seem unbelievable and disrupt the viewer's identification with the storyline. Jess's mother certainly has quite a surreal world view, shared by the majority of the older inhabitants of Jess's world. This would work against the drama if it weren't for the characters' grounding in reality and the easily recognisable location of a working-class mining town.

For audiences that have grown up with lesbian characters in most of the main soap operas, the routine appearance of lesbian characters in ITV and BBC dramas, and Channel 4 pushing the boundaries of 'acceptable' British television with programmes like Queer as Folk (1999-2000), Oranges seems quite tame when seen today. But for its time, it was an innovative, brave, original and, to many, shocking depiction of teenage lesbian love. By the third episode of Oranges, as if to illustrate how far society had moved in its tolerance of minority groups, Jess not only accepts her sexuality but fully embraces it and the lifestyle she will soon lead, far from her small-minded community.

Emma Smart

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Video Clips
1. Closer to Jesus (2:27)
2. Temptation (3:20)
3. Lost (2:46)
4. Just visiting (3:59)
Coleman, Charlotte (1968-2001)
Imrie, Celia (1952-)
McEwan, Geraldine (1932-)
Thewlis, David (1963-)
TV Literary Adaptation