Blue Jean

Blue Jean review | Impressive, but flawed debut

★★★☆☆
In Blue Jean, Georgia Oakley’s impressive, but flawed debut, a PE teacher faces a personal crisis in Thatcher’s Britain.

★★★☆☆


At the very beginning of Blue Jean, we are introduced to our protagonist, Jean (Rosy McEwen). She’s bleaching her hair and sitting on the sofa in her dressing gown, watching Blind Date. It’s a rare moment when she can exist and enjoy herself. 

See, Jean is a school PE teacher in 1980s Britain. Margaret Thatcher’s voice is booming from the TV and the radio, promoting a new law that would criminalise homosexuality. And gay is exactly what Jean is. She lives a double life; one as a divorced teacher and another as a lesbian in a happy relationship with Viv (Kerrie Hayes), who’s more open about her sexuality. 

Jean’s life starts coming apart at the seams with the arrival of a new student, Lois (Lucy Halliday). Lois is sporty like Jean, and one night, Jean finds Lois at the gay bar she frequents. When Lois gets bullied by a popular student, Siobhan, Jean reaches a breaking point. 

There is a lot of misery to be found in Blue Jean. It’s a film that reduces being gay to a struggle. Yet director Georgia Oakley, making her directorial feature debut here, handles it with grace and never resorts to melodrama to deliver her story. 

Rosy McEwen is compelling as Jean. Her performance is nuanced and delicate, and while it’s also restrained, McEwen never holds anything back. Her huge eyes communicate Jean’s internal conflict well. Equally great is Lucy Halliday, as Lois and the two have great chemistry together. 

Blue Jean feels a little unfinished, its script is one more polish away from a truly spectacular film. While Oakley aptly focuses on how society and even Jean’s fellow teachers so quickly and easily demonise gay people, the film lacks a sense of the bigger picture. While we all know the stakes all too well, Oakley doesn’t show them enough to give her film a sense of urgency. 

The production design is one of the film’s biggest strengths. The grey, dull, damp Tyneside is brought to life with care and details. It feels like an appropriately lived-in world rather than a series of sets that the actors temporarily inhabit. There is texture to the grainy cinematography by Victor Seguin, which gives it a specific flavour and sense of the times. 

Blue Jean Rosy McEwen

Credit: Altitude Films

But Blue Jean still feels like a very one-sided exploration of being a lesbian. Most of these women have short hair and hairy armpits and are overwhelmingly masc-representing and almost all white. A more varied palette of women is desperately needed here, it would allow Blue Jean to be more authentic and accessible. 

It’s still a very impressive feature debut from Oakley. She handles the subject matter with empathy, but Blue Jean is still needlessly serious and lacks focus in the narrative. It could have been more dramatic, but the great performances saved the day. 


Blue Jean screened at the BFI London Film Festival on October 6 and is now cinemas. 


1 Comment

  • vosu84wisico5549 says:

    It’s disappointing to read a review that takes such a limited view of LGBTQ history. Sorry if this part of our history strikes you as miserable and the women not as attractive as you’d like…I’m sure you’ll find many reviews that agree with you and would like the girls in the film to smile more, maybe wear a little makeup and have a more diverse collection of friends… the truth is that, this was what life was like for many of the LGBTQ community in the 1980’s and section 28 was a terrible time in our history. It’s also important to point out that one persons story is exactly that, one person who might represent one or maybe some people’s stories but not all stories. Film reviews that cover the opinion of the reviewer instead of the actual film just read as a list of personal likes and dislikes…not a critique of the film itself. But, if it’s pretty ladies with happy storylines you’re after there’s plenty of movies out there to float your (narrow) boat.

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