This tender ‘coming of age/coming out’ story from 1996 is based on the award-winning play by Jonathan Harvey first performed at the Bush Theatre. Stage director Hettie Macdonald directed this adaptation, funded by Channel 4 Films and produced by the late Tony Garnett, who is best known for his thirteen-year association with director Ken Loach. Set in one of the many post-war council estates in Thamesmead, a predominantly working class area of South London, the story revolves around two teenage boys whose individual circumstances provide the basis for sexual self-discovery.

The main protagonist is Jamie Gangel (Glen Berry), an introverted teenager whose introverted nature and lack of enthusiasm for football make him the perfect target for bullying at school. As if it weren’t bad enough, Jamie shares the flatmate with his single mother Sanda (Linda Henry) who is a rough and tough loudmouth changing jobs as frequently as her boyfriends. Her latest conquest is the soft-spoken Tony (Ben Daniels) who, in appearance and attitude, may well be a Woodstock leftover. Talking about Woodstock: teenager Leah (Tameka Empson) is the troubled (and troublesome) daughter of neighbour Rose Russell (Jeillo Edwards) and much to the annoyance of everyone living within the Russell’s flat, Leah tends to drive her neighbours mad by playing records by Mamas and Papas’ Cass Elliott… loud, such as in, really loud! No one can figure out why a teenager of the 1990s adores a singer from the 1960s (Sandra: “What’s wrong with Madonna?”) but Leah simply thinks that Mama Cass is the ticket and harbours big ambitions to become just as famous as her idol. Having been expelled from school for bad behaviour, Leah has plenty of time to practice when not involved in spats with Sandra.

Another troublesome neighbour is Ronnie Pearce (Garry Cooper) who, together with his older son Trevor (Daniel Bowers) constantly bullies and beats up Ste (Scott Neal), the younger soon. Jamie and Ste are mates anyway but when Jamie’s mother invites Ste to spend the night in their place after Ronnie had beaten him up over something trivial, the two boy’s friendship takes a very different direction and although both Jamie and Ste are in denial, they overcome all odds and prejudice. Even Sandra eventually accepts her son’s sexuality after confronting him when she finds out he spent the evening in a local gay bar. Realising that one should always follow their own emotions, regardless of what others may think, she also calls her romance with the idealistic Tony quits because, in her own words, he never really had to fight for anything in his life.

The final scene, played out in the council estate courtyard, is heart-warming and re-assuring although in an age where LGBT+ topics are as common and as widespread in TV and media as any other topics, one wonders whether BEAUTIFUL THING still has the same impact today as it had back then.
It’s beautifully acted and Linda Henry in particular is perfect casting – her hard face and brash attitude makes everything all the more believable. Glen Berry and Scott Neal act their parts realistically and full of raw emotion though the crown in the jewel is Tameka Empson, whose antics and attempts to copy Cass Elliot (her songs feature heavily among the soundtrack) are simply hilarious.

The film has just been released on HD Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Prime. Bonus material includes: newly recorded audio commentary / Beautiful Thing Q&A from 2023 / ‘Living at Thamesmead’ – a 25 min short from 1974 / the 4 min short ‘Crashing Waves’ from 2018 / Beautiful Thing rainbow plaque unveiling (2023) / theatrical trailer / illustrated booklet (first pressing only).