Award-winning film returns to Edinburgh

This article is from 2008.

Film addressing gay issues back for screening despite struggle with UK attitudes

In 2001 I wrote an episode of the teen TV show As If which got a number of complaints, and the ITC felt obliged to get Channel 4 to issue an on-air apology. The offending scene? Two young lads were giving each other a massage, but the dialogue was written in such a way that a third party over-hearing thought they were having sex. Some of my colleagues on the show were gobsmacked that such a trivial matter had caused such offence. “For God’s sake, this is the twenty first century, surely people are over this gay issue now” was the general take on it.

I wasn’t so surprised. I‘d been here before. My film Get Real, which is about two young lads from the same school falling in love, won the Edinburgh Film Festival Audience Award in 1998. I mention this not to blow my own trumpet, but because of that word, “audience”. It was ordinary punters who had voted for it, not savvy uber-cool industry professionals. They loved it, but more importantly, they were ready for this story. The film went on to win further audience awards round the world and Paramount took it on, which was fantastic. It had its official opening in LA and New York, and did pretty well for a small British Indy feature.

Then it was time for the British opening; it was a disaster. In my opinion the marketing and distribution people didn’t know what to do with it. They were embarrassed by it. I think they felt that the Great British public wasn’t ready for the audience-prize winning film.

Which is why I’m delighted the film is being screened back in Edinburgh, the city which first embraced it. It’s also why I’ve brought back the play the film is based on for its first Edinburgh production. I’m delighted that the play has been getting fantastic audiences and that their response has been warm and very moving. Weird, then, that once again some critics, though praising the production have questioned the point of putting it on again, one of them calling it “a plot which has failed to stand the test of time”. Yep, it’s the twenty first century, surely people have got over the gay issue by now.

When I wrote What’s Wrong With Angry in 1992 the age of consent for gay men was twenty one and Section 28 was on the statute books. This insidious piece of legislation, driven by Norman Tebbit, prohibited local authorities, and by implication schools, from promoting a positive image of homosexuality. In theory designed to protect young people, nobody stopped to ask, “protect them from what?” It plunged a whole generation of young gay people into further confusion and isolation. I had come out of a messy relationship with one such person who just couldn’t bare people thinking he was gay. He was from Basingstoke, where the play and film are set, and in 1992 he felt like he was the only gay in the village. We both read in the paper of another young man from Basingstoke who had hanged himself because he knew being gay would mean he would have a terrible life. Well done Mr Tebbit, you didn’t protect him, did you?

So, when I finally got dumped for a woman I was angry. Not just about what had happened to me, but that people seemed to be so scared of what is basically love. I wrote the play as therapy, and never in a million years dreamed it would become so successful and reach so many people both on stage and screen. Questioning the validity of mounting a production of it now is like saying we shouldn’t stage Journey’s End because the First World War is over.

And anyway, the battle for gay rights isn’t over. It’s important not to get complacent. Yes it’s easier to be gay if you come from a big city, but not everywhere, and certainly not in Iran where a young gay man was stoned to death last year. Even here the word “gay” has become an all-purpose bad adjective for our kids. Bullying of gay kids is still rife in our schools. Though it might be easier to be gay than it used to be, I don’t think it’s any easier to come out. A family came to see my play last week, mummy, daddy and a boy of about 14. How enlightened, I thought. Wrong. They left after ten minutes, mummy shouting the word “it’s unnatural” at one of the actors in the wings.

That was upsetting for us, but imagine what was going through the mind of that fourteen year-old kid if he’s gay.

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