Vague Visages’ Blue Jean review contains minor spoilers. Georgia Oakley’s 2022 movie stars Rosy McEwen, Kerrie Hayes and Lucy Halliday. Check out more cinema coverage and soundtrack song listings at VV’s home page.
Reflections are always bouncing around Jean (Rosy McEwen) in Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean. As Margaret Thatcher’s government grows increasingly strident in their attempts to enforce a conservative moral code, the film’s protagonist struggles to maintain a grasp on the various shards of her fragmented life. Jean is a gay teacher in late-80s Britain, desperately trying to obscure the parts of her that others would prefer to bury. She sees spectres of her true self, hazily peeking from a wing mirror, a rear-view mirror and the bathroom cabinet; all moments of clarity as she dyes her hair or rides on the back of her girlfriend’s motorbike. Once a new student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), decides to join Jean’s netball team, there is nowhere else to look. She must reckon with her multifaceted desire.
Blue Jean is a slippery story, elusive in all the way Jean tries to be. McEwen carries herself with a steely skittishness, which allows her character to ignore the callous comments of students while fumbling half-hearted justifications to friends. Jean’s nightly meditation tapes reiterate the mantra “the body is powering down” and yet she still wakes, shoulders hunched, neck jutting forward in discontent, pointedly skirting eye contact when faced with a colleague who wants to go for a pint after work. She wants to make everyone happy, and thus siphons off her life into manageable chunks, stretches herself across these sectors and grows increasingly translucent in the process. Jean’s desire to keep everything separate is blatantly self-destructive: “I will quit my job” she tearfully pleads with her girlfriend, Viv (Kerrie Hayes), during a climactic argument. “I don’t want you to quit your job.” Viv responds wisely, “You love your job. You’re good at your job.”
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Oakley carefully fills Jean’s personal life with people who are fully embodied; their comments arise organically but belie habits, taste and lovingly etched personalities. They joke and drink, dancing around one another, cigarettes in hand. In many ways, the space that is carved out for these characters reinvigorates Blue Jean, shading Jean’s world in rich colors, entangling the threads running through the movie. Oakley wields light to assemble these atmospheres, all of which layer over one another in conflicting patterns. The club that Jean and her girlfriend Viv frequent is dimmed, bathed in purples and reds, soft and heady, while the school is perpetually garish, pale and cold, simultaneously cavernous and small with nowhere to hide.
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News clips and audio of Dinner Date episodes soundtrack Jean’s every day — a cacophony of discontent pressing down as the AIDS crisis is twisted into homophobic policy. When she is with her friends, the world feels limitless, but from the cramped PE office — clouded with cigarette smoke and painted an uninviting shade of blue — it is clear that the breadth of her desires can’t sit comfortably in most shared spaces. The viewer keenly feels the discomfort of this environment, and as such is allowed to sympathize with some of Jean’s harsher decisions. Her arguments with Viv, friends and Lois are allowed to fully develop. Oakley constructs a landscape in Blue Jean that responds to the cruelty of real society with a stark generosity. As a result, the audience is invited to sympathize with as many characters as possible.
Oakley’s sexy and warm feature film debut is packed with searing emotion and armed with a stunningly considered central performance by McEwen. Between them, they manage to balance a set of glinting bathroom mirrors to reveal something stark and vulnerable staring back.
Anna McKibbin (@annarosemary) is a freelance film critic. She received a journalism MA from City University and specializes in pop culture. Anna has written for London Film School, Film Cred and We Love Cinema.
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