Beautiful Thing (1996) – Film Review

Beautiful Thing Film Review

Director: Hettie Macdonald
Cast: Glen Berry, Linda Henry, Scott Neal
Certificate: 15

By Sarah Morgan

Love is a many splendoured thing, but can it really conquer all?

In Beautiful Thing, based on Jonathan Harvey’s much-admired play of the same name, we’re given hope that it can.

Beautiful Thing Film ReviewAt the centre of the story are shy, introverted Jamie and Ste, his neighbour on a tough London council estate. Jamie is picked on by his classmates; they seem to sense there’s something about him that means he will never quite fit in with their crowd. Ste, meanwhile, is more popular thanks to his love of sport; he is nevertheless miserable living with his brutish father and older brother, and seeks solace with Jamie and his no-nonsense but kind-hearted mother Sandra.


After he receives a beating from his sibling, she takes Ste in. Due to a lack of space, he and Jamie share a bed, sleeping top-to-toe, until Jamie plucks up the courage to kiss him. Ste is initially appalled and horrified, even avoiding his friend for several days. Eventually he comes to terms with his burgeoning feelings, and the pair begin exploring their sexuality, even visiting a gay pub where they’re accepted by the regulars.

Later, as her own relationship with the well-meaning if slightly ridiculous neo-hippie Tony falls apart, Sandra discovers just how close Jamie and Ste have become. Initially disappointed, she slowly accepts the situation and becomes her son’s staunchest supporter.

The film ends on an optimistic note. It’s not quite a hearts and flowers situation (one assumes that no matter what, Ste’s father and brother would never accept the relationship), but it’s nevertheless a touching and unforgettable moment.

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Harvey claimed his original play, which debuted at the Bush Theatre in London, “wasn’t intended to be a gay play, just a play that happened to have gay characters.” Nevertheless, the film version has become a touchstone for many within the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Beautiful Thing Film Review


It was released in 1996, a difficult time when Section 28 was in operation and the AIDS crisis was still looming large in the minds of many. Any depictions of homosexuality on screen tended not to be positive, so to find one as touching as Beautiful Thing must have been incredibly life-affirming and refreshing.

It’s lost none of its impact in the intervening years, thanks in no small part to the performances of its cast, which includes Gene Berry and Scott Neal as Jamie and Ste, current EastEnders stars Linda Henry (as Sandra) and Tameka Empson (as duo’s Mama Cass-loving neighbour Leah) and Ben Daniels as Tony.

Harvey’s script is, of course, hugely important; director Hattie MacDonald had already worked on the original play, so knew the material inside out, which must have helped her bring the film to life with such confidence.

The disc’s special features include the unveiling of a plaque celebrating Beautiful Thing at The Greenwich Tavern, where some scenes were shot, and an in-depth interview with Harvey, MacDonald, her then-assistant Susie Liggat and Berry, during which Harvey claims he doesn’t think the boys would have stayed together. The romantics among us would prefer to think they lived happily ever after.

Special features:
  • Presented in High Definition
  • Newly recorded audio commentary with director Hettie Macdonald, writer Jonathan Harvey and assistant director Susie Liggat
  • Beautiful Thing Q&A (2023, 32 mins): a post-screening discussion with Jonathan Harvey, Hettie Macdonald, Susie Liggat and cast member Glen Berry
  • Living at Thamesmead (1974, 25 mins): a short film showing the architecture and landscaping of Thamesmead, and everyday lives of the residents
  • Crashing Waves (2018, 4 mins): a short film set against the backdrop of a high-rise housing estate where two young men connect
  • Beautiful Thing rainbow plaque unveiling (2023, 1 min)
  • Theatrical trailer
Beautiful Thing is available on Blu-ray from the BFI. RRP: £16.99

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.