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BLUE JEAN (2023) review

October 9, 2023


written by: Georgia Oakley
produced by: Hélène Sifre
directed by: Georgia Oakley
rated: not rated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2023 (limited)


In order for us to get an understanding of who someone is, we must spend time with them and learn their story. Their life is their story. What part of their life they want to show us is up to them or at least it should be. The titular character in writer/director Georgia Oakley’s stunning feature-length debut, “Blue Jean”, navigates an internal struggle regarding who she truly is. She knows full well that she will be considering an outsider by all who know her, jeopardizing the separation she has constructed over the years between her public and private life.

Oakley’s story takes place in Newcastle back in 1988, when being a lesbian wasn’t something one would broadcast, predominately due to the climate at the time from the Thatcher regime. When we first meet Jean (a luminescent Rosy McEwen), a physical education at a public secondary school, we can hear the ancillary noise of proposed Section 28 legislation on local radio and television reports. Jean turns it off, literally and figuratively, doing her best to quietly keep to herself. You can tell she is used to the conversations with coworkers in the teachers lounge being limited to the job and not local news or sharing recounting weekend highlights like everyone else. She often politely declines invites from the rest of the teachers to their local pub after school.



It’s not that she has no social life, it’s just that the people and places she associates with what not be considered “acceptable”. While early on we do see her staying at home, coloring her hair blonde while a dating show (“Blind Date”) is on her television in the background. Jean does regularly patronize a local gay bar with Viv (Kerri Hayes), her more outspoken girlfriend, who stands out with bold tattoos and shaved head. It’s where Jean can be herself, a place she has counted on anyone who knows her in public will never frequent. Still, there are moments when it’s hard for Jean to ignore certain looks from friends or family members who may or may not know the truth.

No doubt, as we watch Jean go about her day, we arrive at our own questions. How much longer can she repress the thoughts she has as her coworkers discuss the ostracizing agenda the government has towards homosexuals? What can she do about the locals who glare at her and Viv in passing at a local coffee shop? She’s not as confident and proud as Viv is with who she is. Knowing what we the viewer knows, there’s a growing feeling of suffocation that Jean endures and one wonders how much longer she can keep this up.



The concern that Jean will lose her job if she is outed is heightened when a new student arrives. Lois (Lucy Halliday), a noticeably shy loner is different than the other teenage girls in her class, resulting in her being treated differently as well. One night, Jean sees her at the bar she frequents and is horrified when she introduces herself to Jean’s friend group. In a perfect world, Jean would take Lois under her wing, providing a role model that Lois needs as she publicly embraces her sexuality, but that can’t happen considering the story’s climate and the two worlds Jean maintains for herself. Jean confronts Lois, telling her not to frequent this place any longer, which throws a wrench in her relationship with Viv.

Unfortunately, things at work take a sharp turn that risks all that Jean has built. A lesbian magazine is found on Jean’s desk at work and she suspects Lois is the one who planted it there. When Lois is bullied by Siobhan (Lydia Page), a player on Jean’s netball (like basketball) team, Jean does her best to remain impartial without offering Lois any support or telling the truth. Now, maintaining her secret is starting to have ramifications in every aspect of her life.

Oakley does a fine job at deftly detailing Jean’s life and all she has to navigate to keep her sexuality a secret. The internal frustration, fear, and anguish that McEwen intensely portrays is moving and unforgettable. This is especially true in scenes with her sister, Sasha (Aoife Kennan) and her brother-in-law, Tim (Scott Turnbull). When Sasha tells Jean she supports her sexuality, yet takes issue with her having Viv over after dropping off her son (Jean’s nephew) unannounced. Since her sister is really the only family member she still speaks with, this starts to fear that it will lead to more estrangement. At times, Oakley conveys the understandable tone of a thriller in “Blue Jean”, considering viewers will easily glean that there’s only so much more of the deceit and lies that Jean can take.



The film’s visual palette frequently supports the color choice of the title. Blue is a color often related to feelings of melancholy or sadness, but for Jean in can also be the weight of perpetually working so hard to maintain a dual life. It’s exhausting. Blue can often be found in McEwen’s piercing eyes, in the color of her bathroom and a jacket she often wears. She also drives a blue car. The gym uniforms the girls wear are blue and the tiles in the school locker room are blue. Oakley and her crew, specifically production designer Soraya Gilanni and costumer designer Kirsty Halliday, seem to also be matching the coldness of the political and social climate as well. At times, Oakley incorporates the music of the time fittingly, like Pink Rhythm’s “Melodies of Love” and New Order’s “Blue Monday”, along with different UK remixes from the late 80s.

There are many memorable aspects “Blue Jean”, but the greatest is the relationship Oakley establishes between the camera, McEwen and viewers. Cinematographer Victor Seguin often leans in close, focusing on McEwen’s face as she withholds outrage and endures discrimination, which comes full circle when she finds resolve in embracing newfound courage and strength.

Ultimately, “Blue Jean” is a fascinatingly astute character study that has a significant social relevance to current events. It’s clear Oakley is aware of the parallels between 1988 and today, there’s just no ignoring it. The ending does offer something of a reprieve from the denial that Jean has been living and by then we are on board with any semblance of truth and happiness that Jean can embrace openly.



RATING: ***1/2



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