Summer of love
Another film about two teenagers in love? Not quite. In Beautiful Thing, they’re both boys, the setting’s a London housing estate and the mood is sunny. Director Hettie Macdonald talks to Trevor Johnston.
The Shallow Grave and Trainspotting boys aren‘t the only ones who have Channel 4 to thank for their ﬁnancial muniﬁcence. First-time ﬁlmmaker Hettie Macdonald still can‘t believe that they fully funded the £1 .2 million it took to bring Beautiful Thing — Jonathan Harvey‘s acclaimed play about youthful gay romance - to the big screen. much acclaim at Cannes and a well-deserved cinema release.
‘They‘rejust fantastic when you think about it.‘ she enthuses. ‘You‘ve got an unknown writer for a ﬁlm. An unknown cast. An unknown director. It‘s a gay love story. And it‘s set in Thamesmead housing estate. Quite frankly. no one else would have made this movie.‘
She isn‘t the only one who‘s glad they did. for Beautiful Thing is a genuine rarity amongst British pictures, in that it takes the theme of two teenage boys in love away from the realm of cricket sweaters and tousled fringes. and right into the everyday world of comprehensive schools, council tenancy and football posters on bedroom walls. More than that, it refuses to turn into grim, grey social realism and. though some of its undeniable emotional pull comes from the hardened attitudes that Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal) are up against. the main point of
the piece is a portrait of possibility and a gutsy stand of deﬁance. embodied by Jamie‘s big-hearted mum Sandra (a storming performance by Linda Henry).
‘lt‘s not about the day after the end ofthe ﬁlm.‘ reckons Macdonald. London-bred but with Scots relatives on her dad‘s side to explain the sumame. ‘lt‘s about the day when they feel brave and happy and ready to take on the world. All down the line. from the ﬁrst production in a tiny theatre four years ago. audiences have really connected with this story. It makes sense that it‘s a ﬁlm so that more people will be able to share in that. What‘s amazing is that we‘re the ones who‘ve been able to make that happen.‘
Macdonald herself admits that she‘s surprised she got the chance to continue the journey with the piece that‘s taken her from the play‘s ecstatic opening run at a tnodest space above a pub. right through to the West End transfer and national tour. but it was her very experience with the characters that won her an unexpected ﬁlm debut after ten years ofdirecting theatre all round Britain.
The result is a ﬁlm with hardly a false note in it. and one where a quick-wilted. utterly true and believable screenplay by Jonathan Harvey himselfgets the sympathetic handling it deserves. Macdonald puts
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Beautiiul Thing: ‘quick-wltted, utterly true and believable screenplay’
what she calls ‘the magic‘ largely down to the writing. but from the moment The Mamas and The Papas‘ ‘lt‘s Getting Better‘ bursts out of the soundtrack within the ﬁrst ﬁve minutes. it‘s obvious this isn‘t going to be the usual homegrown trudge through unremitting deprivation.
‘The fact that it‘s really an old-fashioned love story gives it a very upbeat feel, of course. but we took a lot of decisions too that helped it along in that direction.‘ she explains. ‘The songs have a lot to do with it because Mama Cass is such summery music. But we also tried to avoid shooting it all in an underground car park. and instead of throwing used condoms and syringes at the screen, we tried to bring up the bright interiors and use the trees and the water on the estate. It‘s quite bold architecturally. so that helped. and we were also very lucky in that our shoot caught the end of last year‘s heatwave. it‘s deﬁnitely a summer movie. and we were lucky enough to get the sun. These might seem like small things. but put them together and you‘ve got something which has just that bit more life in it.‘ (Trevor Johnston) Beautiful Thin g opens on Fri 2/. Writer Jonathan Harvey will talk about the ﬁlm after a screening at the Cameo in Edinburgh at 7pm on Sun 23.
mﬂ_ First-timer llettie Macdonald’s tantalising, ii uncertain prospect oi direction may be unilashy, yet it’s running her own pub? immensely attuned to the inner lives The illm’s resolution is uplifting BEAuTIFuL THING oi these motley individuals trying to without being too cheesy, inspiring make something oi their lives on a without ignoring the tough times More British movies like this one, and south-east london council estate. ahead. The cast work wonders, and certain crltlcs might have to budge It’s the people that count. Glen neither they nor the milieu are "‘0" Duludlces on British theatre Berry’s Jamie is having a hard time at patronlsed ior a moment. Certainly, directors being given cameras in the local comprehensive, where next- you can see it helping young people their hands. Opened out by the author door neighbour Ste (Scott lleal) can who might be in the process oi W180". this illm oi Jonathan hack it with the rest oi the lads, but cornlng out, but the illm’s central Harvey’s stage hit Beautiful Thing still iinds himseli on the receiving never-say-dle emotional Impetus ls amply conilmrs that a great cast oi end irom his ext-boxer dad and ior everyone. lllce one, iolks. (Trevor characters and drop-dead brilliant bullying big brother. Whaddayaknow, Johnston) dialogue can communicate an the pair oi them iind comiort in each Beautiful Thing (15) (Hettie aiiectlng human story without the others’ arms, but how to tell Jamie’s Macdonald, UK, 19$) Glen Berry, need tor a Steadlcm whirling around mum Sandra (Linda llenry, the star oi linda Iiemy, Scott Heal, Tameka in every scene, or MTV-trained a. the show) when she has her own Empson, Ben Daniels. attains. From editors doing speed with the scissors *- -. - > v r T‘s-5‘:- hands iull with kindly but dozy Fri 21. Glasgow: MGM Film Centre In their trends. Beautiful Thing: ‘the cast work wonders’ boyiriend Tony (Ben Daniels) and the Edinburgh: Barren.
24 The List 14-27 Jun 1996