Beautiful Thing [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (18th March 2024).
The Film

"Beautiful Thing" (1996)

Jamie (played by Glen Berry) is a 16 year old who doesn’t quite fit in at school. His single mother Sandra (played by Linda Henry) is concerned about his well-being and not getting into trouble while she tries to balance her busy work and domestic concerns. Jamie’s neighbor and classmate Ste (played by Scott Neal) may not stand up for Jamie in front of other bullies at school, though he feels for Jamie’s alienation, as Ste’s home life is in much worse shape. Ste’s single father (played by Garry Cooper) is an alcoholic and physically abusive while his older brother Trevor (played by Daniel Bowers) is a drug dealer without much concern for his younger sibling. While they have differing issues to overcome, they start becoming closer emotionally toward a sexual relationship.

It was not easy for the LQBTQ community in the United Kingdom in the 1990s when “Beautiful Thing” was made. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced Section 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. It limited organizations for helping people as well as leading to further discrimination against non-heterosexual individuals and groups, with awareness and acceptance being a far sight away. While there were portrayals of gay characters on British television and film, they were more or less for comic relief through stereotypical happenings and behavior.

Playwright Jonathan Harvey wrote the stageplay “Beautiful Thing” in 1993 which was based mainly on his experience as a gay teenager. Rather than focusing on emotional outbursts or over the top dramatic situations, the play was a quiet and quaint awakening of two boys that are not particularly sure of what they are experiencing. It was not sexual but emotional, with the characters and their surrounding families and friends, and not about society or government or outsiders. It was a fresh coming out story that had charm and wit with a heartfelt impact due to the characters. Sure, there are struggles and obstacles to overcome, yet nothing is forced or explicit for the main characters. The play was met with critical acclaim and attracted Channel 4 Television to adapting it into a television film, to which he wrote his first screenplay by adapting his own work for the screen. For directing, Hettie Macdonald, who had experience directing the stage version was hired. For both it would be their first experience with a feature length production on film.

While the stage version had to have young adult actors play the 16 year old characters of Jamie and Ste, the film version would cast actual teens with Glen Berry and Scott Neal for a greater sense of reality that the stage version could not have. Jamie’s character is one that is immediately bullied by others from the opening soccer scene, and he is ready to escape and return home rather than stick around for school to end. He’s not the only one at home from school as his next door neighbor Leah (played by Tameka Empson) who was expelled from school is living her days at home seemingly in a different world. She is a massive fan of the music and persona of Cass Elliot of The Mamas & the Papas, blasting her music as loud as possible and even dressing and acting like her at times. Bubbly and positive, yet rude and crass, Leah is someone that Jamie thinks is a bit crazy yet at the same time a wonder with her freedom to express herself. With Ste on the other hand, he is emotionally and physically crippled from the abusive behavior from his father, and when he decides to take refuge at Jamie’s home, his father couldn’t care less about him returning or not. It is during Jamie and Ste’s time together, discussing about their troubles as well as sleeping in the same room that they start to feel something stronger. Jamie seemingly figures out that he is gay and he is the one that starts to open up to Ste, though there is a bit of stubbornness from Ste’s side, who doesn’t immediately accept his true sexual orientation. Berry and Neal do an impressive job with their characters by expressing their awkwardness with honesty rather than comedically, and as teens it was quite a milestone. Empson’s over the top behavior could be easily an acceptable form for a young drag queen to perform, so it is larger and crazier in nature than the two male leads in contrast.

While it is difficult for the boys to go through what they are going through alone, there is a sequence in which Jamie steals a copy of Gay Times magazine from the local store and shares it with Ste, leading to new questions and new experiences. There is a hilarious line of Ste not understanding what “frottage” is and Jamie replies that it is “French for yogurt”. Their first visit to a gay pub and seeing a live drag performance (played by Dave Lynn) is an eye opening experience for them, but it is also one for Jamie’s mother who follows them suspiciously to the location. Therein lies the uncomfortable moment of Jamie having to lie to his mother, and later having to come out to her in an emotionally volatile scene.

While there are a number of coming out to family scenes in various productions, the handling of it in “Beautiful Thing” is done wonderfully, with the mother being emotionally confused while her boyfriend Tony (played by Ben Daniels) comes in at a great timing of comic relief yet also giving young Jamie comfort with the single comment of “It’s cool”. Although it’s more likely that he didn’t exactly know what to say at the moment. Daniels plays the role wonderfully, giving a laidback and dumbfounded, yet sincere and caring performance that is very memorable for a supporting character.

Everything about the boys in “Beautiful Thing” feels truthful and refreshing. It is not sexually explicit at all and has warmth rather than lust. It has acceptance of homosexuality yet it is not a sudden change overnight. The written characters as well as the direction are standouts and the actors do a wonderful job with the drama and the comedy with the right balanced tone throughout, making it one of the best and most realistic coming of age romantic comedies in film.

Although Channel 4 was planning for it to be a television film, they decided to change plans and have it a theatrical film for cinemas instead due to the positive feedback. The film premiered at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in March of 1996 followed by the Manchester Queer Up North Festival a month later. It was then released in UK cinemas on June 21, 1996. While there were many positive notices, there was certainly an issue with being able to promote them film due to its content. It would still receive acclaim from the LGBTQ community and winning a few international awards. As for British awards, it was neglected entirely. The film would work its way to finding audiences on television and on home video over the years, and the play would continue to be performed well into the new millennium around the world, from China to Australia to other countries. With this new Blu-ray release from the BFI, “Beautiful Thing” is about to find a bigger audience with a story that is timeless as it is a snapshot of the 1990s.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The film starts with the Sony Picture Classics logo, the distributor for the film in the United States. The notes state the transfer comes from Channel 4/Film Four without information on what elements were used. The HD transfer looks great throughout, from the opening shot of the rainbow (which is a symbolic foreshadowing), the outdoor locations of Thamesmead, and the various interiors. Light and dark are balanced well and there are no instances of damage such as dust or speckles to be seen for a smooth image while still keeping the film grain. It's not a film that pops with color or detail though everything looks serviceable and without major intrusion. Overall it is a solid job on the transfer and comes without any issues or complaints.

The film's runtime is 91:07.


English LPCM 2.0 stereo
The original stereo track is presented in uncompressed form. The film is dialogue heavy and so it is center based, though the left and right panning is used effectively for the soundtrack cues of Cass Elliot's songs as well as the score by John Altman. The dialogue is clear and well balanced against the music and effects, without issues of damage such as pops or dropout. Again, it is not an audio track that will blow home theaters away, but is perfectly effective and represents the original experience well.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font that are easy to read and well timed.


Audio commentary by writer Jonathan Harvey, director Hettie Macdonald and first assistant director Susie Liggat (2023)
This new and exclusive commentary reunites Harvey, Macdonald with first assistant director Susie Liggat as they recall the making of the film. Discussed are the locations of Thamesmead shown in the film, the color palate choices, the characters, the changes from stageplay to screenplay, the casting, some troubles behind the scenes including some crewmembers who walked off due to discomfort, the concerned looks from onlookers in the final scene, as well as the many brighter spots. While it has a good amount of information and behind the scenes, the commentary does drift towards the obvious at times, rather than deeper behind the scenes anecdotes.
in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

2023 Q&A (31:40)
This Q&A from July 23rd, 2023 took place at the Greenwich Picturehouse for the 30th anniversary of the original play, and features Harvey, Macdonald, Liggat, plus actors Glenn Berry and Dave Lynn, moderated by David Robson, project lead of Rainbow Plaques and the London LGBT Forums Network. Discussed are about the original play, the adaptation to film and the changes made, shooting in Thamesmead at the time in real locations, the realism and hopeful nature of the story, Lynn's casting, the choice of using Cass' music and getting the rights to them, Lynn's casting and performance and more including some questions from the audience. At one point Liggat's microphone seems to turn off making it hard to hear her comments.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Living at Thamesmead" 1974 short film (26:25)
This short features a young male and female couple on a date one day in Thamesmead, and while they are enjoying their time walking through town, there are flashbacks to the time they introduced each other's parents at a pub, their school life, the dentist's office, the local church, etc. Basically it is a promotional piece on the town itself with its diverse community of residents and the various things it offers. Obviously it doesn't include some of the inconveniences, such as how there is no access by rail to Thamesmead from surrounding areas of London (which is still the case in 2024) and some of the issues with access due to the motorways being constructed. The film itself is not in the greatest condition, as the image is extremely grainy with weak colors, some flickering and having damage marks visible throughout. The sound is a bit on the flat side, though it sounds fair to say the least. The short has been embedded below, from the London Metropolitan Archives YouTube channel.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono without subtitles

"Crashing Waves" 2017 short film (3:40)
This dialogue free short film features two young men who are in love but having difficulty expressing their emotions out in the open is told through modern interpretive dance.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, Music Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo without subtitles

"Beautiful Thing Rainbow Plaque Unveiling" 2023 featurette (1:12)
Taking place just after the Q&A stated above, this short featurette shows the commemoration of the film with a Rainbow Plaque ath Greenwich Tavern, (formerly known as the Gloucester), the pub that was showcased in the film itself.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo without subtitles

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)
The original UK trailer is presented here, narrated by Leah, coming from a fairly weak source so the colors are a bit on the drag side in comparison to the feature. The trailer from Film Four has been embedded below.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

The first pressing includes a 32 page booklet. First is the essay "Beautiful Thing: Forbidden Love on the Cockney Riviera by the BFI's Simon McCallum on the film and the political and social setting of the time. Next is "Thamesmead Estate: The Town of Tomorrow" by London-based architect and urban guide Áine Grace which looks at the town and its history and present. This is followed by "Getting Better, Growing Stronger: Cass Elliot" by the BFI's Vic Pratt on the singer's life and music. Next is "Raise a Glass to Ste and Jamie" by David Robson who recalls his encounter with the film and the legacy it has left. "In Praise of Beautiful Thing, a Quintessentially British Coming Out Movie" is a great review of the film by Emily Maskel which was originally published in Little White Lies magazine. Last, there are full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements and stills.

The film was released on DVD in various countries years ago though none of them had significant extras. It made its debut on Blu-ray in France by Optimale in 2021, which had an exclusive interview with French filmmaker Rodolphe Marconi and some trailers, though unfortunately it only had lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. The UK Blu-ray goes beyond with new and exclusive extras plus uncompressed stereo audio.

Other notable clips:

Jonathan Harvey and Russell T Davies in conversation, from the Theatre Royal Stratford East

The trailer for the most recent stage version, from the Theatre Royal Stratford East


"Beautiful Thing" stands tall as an essential coming-out/coming-of-age story, and even if the film version is very 90s in its look, the emotional core of the young characters and the changes they face are as timeless as can be. With solid performances and great storytelling, it's a great watch and is still fresh nearly three decades later. With the BFI Blu-ray having a great transfer with many new extras, it comes as highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A


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