At a time when society is calling for more and better representation of LGBTQ+ people, it’s easy to say that “good” representation is when a queer character is portrayed as the hero. Their moral compass never leads them astray and they exemplify the qualities that society admires. That’s easy to write, but it’s not interesting nor is it an accurate portrayal of a real individual. Humans are morally gray. They may net out positively or negatively, but their lives are full of decisions that run the gamut of right, wrong, misguided, mean, careful, etc. When people call for representation, they often want to see themselves reflected in a nuanced (and good) way.
Blue Jean’s titular character, Jean (Rosy McEwen), is not easy to pin down. The audience first meets her as she’s bleaching her hair, alone in her apartment. She’s methodical about it and exudes an air of contemplative anxiety. Maybe that’s not immediately obvious to the average viewer, but to someone who recognizes the motions and tics of a cautious-to-a-fault individual, it’s clear who Jean is.
It’s 1980s Britain under the rule of Margaret Thatcher. Weighing on Jean’s mind is Section 28, a law that banned the promotion of homosexuality in places like schools—something that sounds eerily familiar forty years later.
Section 28 threatens Jean because she’s a physical education teacher. She’s methodical in keeping a distance between herself, fellow teachers, and students. Jean always turns down invitations for a pint after work and is attentive to her students without opening up about her personal life. This delicate balance is thrown into jeopardy when a new girl, Lois (Lucy Halliday), enrolls in the school.
Based on the unfortunate reality of too many movies about queer women romanticizing the relationship between teacher and student, there was a fear that Blue Jean would head down that path. Thankfully, it does not. Lois threatens Jean’s way of life because Lois has more confidence and bravery in her identity than Jean could ever dream about. Lois’ brazen confidence terrifies Jean because her livelihood hinges on the fact that sexuality remains a secret. That fear eats her up inside.
It’s not only the internal homophobia and shame she’s processing but the external as well. Jean is constantly listening to the radio or watching tv, where her right to love is often being debated. Her girlfriend, Viv (Kerrie Hayes), doesn’t care what other people think of her, and that seems to entice, baffle, and terrify Jean. Jean appears to be hopeful that some of Viv’s confidence will rub off on her, but that’s not the case. It’s an internal hurdle that has to be overcome. And, at the risk of slightly spoiling the movie, Jean does make strides to overcome that hurdle.
The moment when Jean decides to throw caution to the window and loudly proclaim she’s a lesbian is a layered, beautiful scene. Laughter and tears spill out from a place that’s deep inside her. It’s a moment of giddiness in her freedom, tension-releasing, and an understanding that she has miles to go—but pride in where she’s been.
Blue Jean’s climactic moment is the fallout of a selfish decision made on Jean’s part. It’s her at her ugliest and most self-serving. From that moment, the film asks the audience to reevaluate their understanding of Jean. Does this one moment define her? Should it? Should one moment in anyone’s life define them? Blue Jean argues that it’s what happens afterward that provides a stronger indication of a person’s true character.