Writers: Thomas Hescott, Pete Lawson and Matthew Baldwin
Director: Thomas Hescott
This short film playing at the autumn Film Festivals could be a companion piece to the BBC’s Against The Law, which told the story of Peter Wildeblood, a gay man imprisoned by the state for having sex with other men. Wildeblood’s book, also called Against the Law, was the catalyst for homosexual reform, and by 1959 the Government’s Wolfenden Committee called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Thomas Hescott’s The Act takes place as the Government begins to debate the Sexual Offences Act of 1967.
Based on a play by Hescott and Matthew Baldwin, The Act is a love affair of sorts as posh civil servant Mr Matthews meets a working class man Mr Moran in the public toilets. Mr Moran probably just wants sex and isn’t convinced when Mr Matthews suggests that they go to Convent Garden Opera House and see Orfeo. Despite Mr Moran’s coarseness Mr Matthews soon finds he’s in love with him even when Mr Moran begins to ask for money.
The time period, the 1960s, is lovingly re-created in this 18-minute film. Smoky underground bars, elegant porcelain urinals, and poky attic bedrooms capture gay life of the time when most people, a politician is heard to say, think that ‘all homosexuals are effeminate, depraved and exhibitionist.’ The politician goes on to say that this stereotype is not true and that ‘the majority of homosexuals are useful citizens.’ It may sound callous now, but it was one of the ways to convince Parliament to change the law.
Samuel Barnett is excellent as the tight-lipped Mr Matthews, so desperate to fall in love that the inappropriate Mr Moran will do. There’s love in his eyes despite Mr Moran’s fists. As Mr Moran, Simon Lennon is a snarly cipher and we cannot be sure of his actions. There are echoes of Victim, the 1961 film where Dirk Bogarde is blackmailed for his relationship with a young working-class man. The Act has a little more hope in it than that classic film, and is lit up by Cyril Nri’s performance as Duchess Edna a flamboyant and lipsticked queen who holds court at the bar that Mr Matthews frequents.
While it works perfectly as a short film, there’s a longer movie struggling to get out of here, and we can only hope that Hescott and his team could turn The Act, or a screenplay like it simmering with lust and sepia, into a feature. The ingredients are all ready.
Runs at various film festivals this autumn