‘Blue Jean’ Is a Cinematic Mirror in an Increasingly Polarizing Social Climate

Georgia Oakley's feature directorial debut takes us back to Thatcher-era England and tells the story of a teacher and her moral battle within.

by Brennan Dubé
Blue Jean

Blue Jean initially premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September of last year, but its global theatrical rollout, which initially began in the United Kingdom in February, has finally branched out into other nations and territories all over the world. I was lucky enough to catch this one in Toronto as it began its Canadian rollout, and I am very glad I did. The recent release of Georgia Oakley’s directorial debut, Blue Jean, marks one of the most poignant and powerful films of the year thus far.

Set in late 1980s England during an era of moral panic and reactionary politics, a semi-closeted lesbian PE teacher by the name of Jean (Rosy McEwen) grapples with the ever-growingly divisive world around her. I say semi-closeted because, well, Jean has a girlfriend, and much of this film is split down the line in what feels like a double life that Jean is living. At work, she is alert to her surroundings, and must constantly keep her guard up. Jean the teacher is not a lesbian to her colleagues, but rather she is a quiet, recently divorced educator that generally keeps to herself and often finds excuses to get out of going for a pint with her teacher colleagues after a long day at work. Instead, we see Jean spend these nights with her girlfriend, Viv (Kerrie Hayes), and many other lesbians alike at a local gay bar which they often frequent. 

Blue Jean grapples directly with not only societal morals, but the morals that lie within. Jean is a character that is often teetering the line between her own private life and her work life, and while many of those around her in her private life are vocal and outward about their sexuality, Jean would much rather separate this from her work life. This often causes a rift between her and those around her who genuinely care for her. 

Jean’s internal struggle to do what is right only becomes more complicated when she finds out a student in her class might be gay. This student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), often finds herself at odds with other students. When some suspect that she might be a lesbian, Lois generally finds herself face-to-face with other students who seek to bully her and make her feel uncomfortable. The film tackles the uncomfortable and harsh reality that calls for bravery and strength in individuals facing adversity, and Jean, a person who is quite successful in her career, very commonly finds herself at odds with her own sexuality. She sees Lois as a threat to her own career safety just as much as she sees Lois as a young girl who deserves a proper role model in a society that is becoming increasingly less accepting of people like her.

Director Georgia Oakley aims to really hammer home the parallel between the societal struggles of the time for the gay community and the very similar struggle we see towards the LGBTQ+ community now. Oakley’s constant interjection of quips from the radio or news broadcast seeks to not only paint a picture of life in late 1980s England, but the very same issues we see persist now. Talk of exploitation of young minds, the debate regarding moral values, and the expanding legal and political challenges that those in marginalized communities, specifically in this case the LGBTQ+ community face can be heard as clear as day throughout this film in these moments of interjection. No matter how well the actors, setting, and overall tone of the film portray the era in which it’s in, you cannot help but think about the world outside the film.

Rosy McEwen is an absolute sensation in Blue Jean, and she takes this role and carries her character with so much humanity. This is one of the more complicated characters I have seen in recent memory, and you can see so well how the world around her and her everyday experiences tear her apart. It is a uniquely powerful performance not in the generic sense of considering how loud one yells or how impressive one’s tears are, but it is powerful through how she conveys this character to us in her body language, eyes, and subtle expressions towards those around her. 

The rest of the cast members are all great, with Kerrie Hayes being an absolute standout as well. Hayes’ character, Viv, being Jean’s girlfriend, plays a key role in her struggle. Viv expresses comfort with herself in ways that we never see from Jean. It is a level of comfort that often only complicates how Jean feels about the world around her. Kerrie Hayes is great, however, showing just enough vulnerability in this role to really bring out the clarity that Jean must seek if she wants to truly become proud of herself. 

Blue Jean is as much a reflection of the past as it is a mirror for us today. Oakley’s feature film directorial debut is one of the best films of the year, chock-full of great performances, strong characters and beliefs, and a message that will stick with you after the credits roll. The moral struggle and lifestyle balance that Jean must grapple with and carry is moving to watch, and Rosy McEwen’s brilliantly understated performance is compassionate and true.

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1 comment

Nick Kush July 4, 2023 - 10:42 am

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