Sometimes, the strength we so badly need is not only for ourselves.
Set in England in 1988, Blue Jean tells the story of Jean (Rosy McEwan), a high school gym teacher who is attempting to keep her personal life and sexuality out of the public eye. At a time when the Conservative government was working hard to condemn the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, Jean feared losing her job—or worse—if her relationship with Viv (Kerrie Hayes) were discovered. As pressure mounts, Jean becomes increasingly terrified that her world will collapse. However, the arrival of a new student forces her to engage her emotional crisis with new lenses.
The first feature by director Georgia Oakley, Blue Jean uses their colour scheme to augment the film’s title. Using a colour scheme that heavily features shades of blue, Jean creates a haze of melancholy around its characters. This isn’t merely a period piece. Instead, it becomes the re-creation of an era where the weight of shame fell heavily upon members of this community for their sexuality. At the same time though, Oakley allows the bursts of colours to shine forth in the world below the surface. As Jean spends her nights in bars and clubs where her sexuality is openly accepted, the viewer is treated to bright hues of red amidst the darkness. In doing so, Oakley ensures that the places of safety are seen as vibrant and life-giving, echoes of a world of love and acceptance.
After all, in these spaces, Jean is free.
In the face of cultural backlash, Blue Jean deals with the nature of courage when faced with growing hostility. Working as a school teacher in the public system, Jean works very hard to keep her personal and private lives separate. To her, concealing her sexuality is a means to survival. At a time where discrimination was taking hold of the population, Jean’s silence was a way for her to continue to live the life that she had crafted. She owns her sexuality and embraces her relationship, but feels the burden of shame to share that story with anybody else. Her heart of self-protection is contrasted with that of her free-spirited girlfriend, Viv who wears her sexuality openly and proudly. Viv’s strength to own her identity is admired by Jean, who struggles to do the same. In this way, the film attacks the stigma thrown upon the LGBTQIA+ community by those who do not understand or, worse, fear them.
Interestingly though, Blue Jean doesn’t stop there with its call to strength. Instead, the film argues that empowerment also carries a burden of responsibility. In other words, Jean recognizes that courage is not only for ourselves, but also for the next generation. As Jean is challenged to stand up for herself, the film suggests that her self-expression can help others who feel as though they must remain hidden for their own safety.
Jean’s struggle may be her own, but Blue Jean shows that her strength can be passed on to others.
Therein lies the value of Blue Jean. Embedded with a heart for justice, Oakley’s story reaches beyond its main character and creates a safe space for the larger community. This inclusive spirit fuels the film, empowering those who are struggling and those who exist on the fringes.
Blue Jean is available in theatres on Friday, June 9th, 2023.