US Release Date: 10-09-1996
Directed by: Hettie Macdonald
- Glen Berry, as
- Jamie Gangel
- Scott Neal, as
- Ste Pearce
- Linda Henry, as
- Sandra Gangel
- Ben Daniels, as
- Tameka Empson, as
- Leah Russell
- Jeillo Edwards, as
- Anna Karen, as
- Sophie Stanton, as
- Julie Smith, as
- Terry Duggan, as
- Garry Cooper, as
- Ronnie Pearce
- Daniel Bowers, as
- Trevor Pearce
- Jonathan Harvey as
- Wheelchair Queen
Glen Berry and Scott Neal in Beautiful Thing.
Based on a play by Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful Thing is a beautifully crafted coming of age story with a gay twist. It was directed by Hettie MacDonald. She is best known today for her work on Doctor Who, having directed the legendary 2007 episode entitled Blink. Beautiful Thing is set in a working class neighborhood in London. Jamie is in high school. He lives with his mom and her latest boyfriend. He is a loner in school who looks up to his neighbor named Ste. Ste is more confident and popular than Jamie. He lives with his older brother and his father, both of whom physically abuse Ste.
After one particularly brutal beating, Ste comes to spend the night with Jamie. They tentatively bond as friends but this soon turns into a sexual relationship as these two young men discover themselves and each other. Jamie and Ste experience first love together. The movie treats their relationship casually, just like any other budding teen relationship in a movie, except that they happen to be of the same sex. In one incredibly romantic and uplifting scene Jamie and Ste are shown running hand in hand through some trees while Mama Cass sings “Make Your Own Kind of Music”. They share a long passionate kiss as the song loudly underscores the moment. You have to give foreign films credit. Nearly twenty years further on and Hollywood still doesn't have the balls to show a scene like this in a mainstream movie.
Beautiful Thing is a comedy. Much of the comic relief is provided by a neighbor girl named Leah, played by Tameka Empson who is now on the popular British soap opera EastEnders. She is a classmate of Jamie and Ste's. She takes drugs and loves Mama Cass. Her big scene comes near the end of the movie when she has a bad acid trip that nearly turns tragic.
Jamie is a character that is easy to relate to. He reminded me a bit of myself at his age. He isn't overtly feminine but he has what you might call a gay sensibility. His mother realizes this without realizing it, if you know what I mean. For example, in one scene she calls out from the next room to ask Jamie who played the Baroness in The Sound of Music. He responds immediately with Eleanor Parker. Every straight boy knows that right? At one point he gets in a physical struggle with his mother. Something I can recall happening to me at about that same age. This mother/son relationship is definitely at the heart of the story.
Beautiful Thing is, along with Big Eden, one of my favorite romantic movies. One thing I appreciate about both of them is the fact that they have happy endings. Too often gay love stories wind up tragically like Brokeback Mountain. I won't give the final scene away but Beautiful Thing ends triumphantly. It will leave a smile on your face and a bit of joy in your heart.
Glenn Berry and Scott Neal in Beautiful Thing
The thing that I appreciate about Beautiful Thing having a happy ending was that it was not about these two boys overcoming external obstacles. Although Jamie’s mother comes to accept it, the point of this story is not to change others minds but to show how Jamie and Ste become comfortable in their own skin. Brokeback Mountain was about two men desperately hiding their sexuality and ultimately suffering greatly for it. The ending here is triumphant because these boys not only learn to accept themselves but also be proud of it. Although the central thrust of the plot is Ste and Jamie coming to terms with their sexuality, the overall theme is one of simply being yourself.
This is greatly emphasized by Leah, whom I found to be a huge shiny metaphor. In an early scene, Jamie’s mother asks her why she does not listen to Madonna instead of Mama Cass. Like a neighbor kid being gay, why does Jamie’s mother care? Cannot Leah listen to whatever music she likes and cannot everyone have their own sexual preference? Well, this movie answers that question when Leah plays her music so loud that it can be plainly heard in the apartment two doors down. A person can certainly listen to whatever music they like and everyone should be comfortable with their own sexuality. It is just that not everyone wants to have it screamed at them. Be yourself and respect others boundaries.
Patrick mentioned that this movie could not have been made in Hollywood and I agree. As portrayed here, Jamie and Ste are two very real young men. Glen Berry and Scott Neal are average looking blokes portraying teenagers from middle class broken homes. Compare them to the studly actors playing cowboys, of all things, in Brokeback Mountain and it is like a biographical love story versus a Harlequin romance novel. The biggest difference though, is that Ennis and Jack were victims of the world around them while Jamie and Ste are simply having growing pains. Sure, both sets of men are concerned with outside opinions, but Ste and Jamie find solace and encouragement in each other while Ennis and Jack found shame.
Beautiful Thing is a bit like an after school morality tale but it lives up to its title as it celebrates differences and being happy with yourself. As Jamie and Ste are so young, it is doubtful they will stay together, and thus the story feels slightly incomplete. They should make a sequel where Ste and Jamie meet years later and have an adult relationship. As we have seen their, less than ideal, home lives, it would be interesting to see how they would raise a son together.
Photos © Copyright Channel Four FilmsWorld Productions (1996)