Beautiful Thing (1996)


Because Hettie Macdonald's first feature film, Beautiful Thing (1996), has so much genuine heart, a winning cast of characters, a fresh and respectful treatment of gay youth, and a soundtrack by Mama Cass, one will forgive it's achingly bad third reel. Based on Jonathan Harvey's play, which apparently is still routinely performed in Britain, the film tells the story of two teen-aged Londoners -- Jamie and Ste -- growing up next door to each other in the working class tenements of the Thamesmead district. Jamie is a the bookish loner who lives with his single Mum, Sandra, a barmaid with dreams of running her own pub. Ste is the affable jock who is routinely beaten by his abusive father and older brother. Jamie is smitten with Ste, who is oblivious (or so we are led to believe) until a particularly bad beat down finds the boy bunking next door at Jamie's. Macdonald's staging of the boys' "discovery" is handled smartly, respectfully and realistically, even though one could argue that having "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from The Sound of Music playing in the background is a bit heavy-handed. The boys' friendships becomes a point of peculiar interest for their nosy neighbor Leah (Tameka Empson), who spends most of the film channeling Mama Cass. The inevitable panicked confrontation between a fearful Sandra and her tearful son, though overwrought, somehow rings true. After that scene, however, the movie careers into a ditch of implausibility following a drug-induced Leah. The final shot of the lads doing a box step in the tenement quad is pure fantasy. For those unaccustomed to London working class dialects, some of the dialogue (not counting universal vulgarisms) might be indecipherable  but that won't keep you from enjoying a different kind of family film. FYI, for fans of Dr. Who, Macdonald went on to direct the highly celebrated Blink episode from 2007, which featured the weeping angels. Recommended.

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