You might not think the House of Lords of the late 1980s and the Florida Legislature of the early 2020s would have much in common, other than questionable oral hygiene, but you’d be mistaken.
Both political bodies became obsessed over what LGBTQ+ people did with their bodies, using child endangerment as a dog whistle, and both passed restrictive laws targeting the broader queer community.
“Blue Jean” (Magnolia), the feature-length debut by writer/director Georgia Oakley, is set in 1988 as Clause (or Section) 28 was being advanced under Tin Lady Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative leadership. Jean (Rosy McEwan, who was awarded best lead performance at the 2022 British Independent Film Awards), a secondary school P.E. teacher, is becoming increasingly aware, via TV and radio news reports, that her life and livelihood are under threat. Divorced from a man, Jean is living her best queer life, hanging out with her tattooed and pierced stone-butch girlfriend Viv (Kerrie Hayes) and their expansive group of friends. They drink, smoke, play pool, and dance at a queer pub.
Among her circle of friends, Jean appears to be the only one with a steady job and income. Because of that, she is keenly aware of the necessity to lead a double life. At school, where she also coaches the netball team, she keeps her head down and does her job. This is not an easy proposition as she is daily faced with the many shifting moods of teenage females, led by mean girl Siobhan (Lydia Page). Nevertheless, she manages to maintain control of the students and even gets on well with her straight counterparts, from whom she keeps a safe distance.
Jean’s need to be closeted doesn’t sit well with Viv, but she tries to be understanding. That is, until it affects her, as in the time that Jean’s sister dropped off her nephew for an unexpected babysitting request, and she introduced Viv as her friend, not girlfriend. This remains an ongoing sticking point throughout.
Further complicating matters is the arrival of new student Lois (Lucy Halliday), to whom Siobhan takes an instant disliking. A decent athlete who shows promise, Lois is seen as a threat by Siobhan, who also senses something else about her new classmate that sets her apart from the others. She’s right, of course, as we discover when Jean sees Lois at her local gay pub. It’s an unnerving moment given the current situation with Thatcher and her ilk.
Retreating even further into the closet, Jean ends up confronting Lois about her presence at the pub, which is especially troubling as the girl is only 15. This leads to an unforeseen altercation with Viv, creating even more drama in Jean’s life. Additionally, tensions continue to rise between Siobhan and Lois, resulting in a physical fight, and worse.
Through it all, Jean struggles to find a balance, and, from what we can gauge from the open-ended conclusion (which occurs shortly after Jean officially comes out to her brother-in-law and an obnoxious male birthday party guest) a kind of hard-won victory occurs. Once again, timing is everything, and the release of “Blue Jean,” occurs as a reminder that while history may repeat, it’s possible for good to triumph over evil.