Beautiful Thing is available to rent, buy and stream on All 4 now.
Let me start by taking you back to the summer of 1996. The Spice Girls were wannabe’s, Dodgy wondered whether they were ‘Good Enough‘ and Baddiel, Skinner, and the Lightning Seeds were singing about ‘Three Lions‘. In cinemas, The Muppets were visiting Treasure Island, and aliens were blowing up the White House just in time for Independence Day. Meanwhile, an IRA bomb targeted shoppers in Manchester, injuring 200. While at the same time, Tony Blair’s New Labour continued to challenge John Major’s ailing, Conservative government.
For LGBTQ+ communities across the UK, the fight for equality, representation and an end to discrimination continued to gain ground. By the mid-90s, this battle included the repeal of Section 28, the equalisation of consent, and legal protections from hate and bigotry. However, for many LGBTQ+ people, the fear and reality of homophobia in schools, media and employment, continued to cast a devastating shadow. Here, where you lived and the community surrounding you directly affected whether you came out.
Jamie: It’s my mum’s. The Body Shop. Peppermint foot lotion… soothes your feet… Lay down, and I’ll rub it into your back if you want.
Meanwhile, very few out LGBTQ+ role models existed on TV, radio or film—the fear of coming out surrounding all aspects of public life. Of course, this was understandable in a nation where the press would hound celebrities they thought were gay. The articles they published, blatantly homophobic and cruel. Here, well-known figures such as Freddy Mercury, Kenny Everett and others found their death from HIV/AIDS haunted by a cold press obsessed with cheap homophobic slurs. This, in turn, only added to the fear of coming out. However, change was on the way, and at its heart, Jonathan Harvey’s play and film, Beautiful Thing, would help build a new era of LGBTQ+ confidence as Britain marched toward a new millennium.
Premiering at the Bush Theatre in 1993, Beautiful Thing would set the template for a more positive representation of gay love. While at the same time challenging outdated ideas on the age of consent (21 for gay men in 1993). Beautiful Thing would also challenge the negative image of gay people born from years of discrimination and hate surrounding HIV and AIDS and Section 28. In Harvey’s world, being gay was part of who you were, your sexual orientation, a celebration, not a curse. This was a story of two boys from a working-class background, both sensitive, grounded, and full of love—their budding romance wrapped in themes of community, belonging, joy, and apprehension.
Ste: Do you think I’m queer?
Jamie: It don’t matter what I think.
Beautiful Thing was authentic, honest and optimistic. Jamie and Ste’s tentative steps together surrounded by family conflict, community belonging and complex friendships. The play’s authenticity, built around relatable characters whose lives were not too distant from your own. The result was a story that stripped away many of the damaging stereotypes attached to the word gay—in turn, freeing young people from the social negativity surrounding their emerging feelings. Here, Jamie and Ste’s love is tender, sweet, romantic and ultimately beautiful; no tragic loss insight, no hate-related murder mid-way through and no sad ending.
Beautiful Thing ushered in a newfound positivity in gay storytelling. Its impact rippling through every young person or adult who sat in a theatre or cinema. Each of those ripples building into a wave of confidence among LGBTQ+ people as Britain slowly changed. With the 1996 movie now celebrating its 25th anniversary, I recently caught up with Jonathan Harvey. Our conversation covering his writing career, Beautiful Thing’s creation and its lasting impact and legacy.
In Conversation with Jonathan Harvey
This interview was recorded on the 6th July 2021 and is the property of Cinerama Film Online. (Runtime: 28 minutes)
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