TV Review: Beautiful People (Series 1)

Perfect fun for lockdown viewing, Series 1 of Beautiful People is an indisputable camp classic

“Reading’s such a dump guys, I don’t know how you do it”

There’s camp and then there’s camp. The first episode of Series 1 of Beautiful People contains, among other things, Égoïste advert reenactments, Tennessee Williams-based inner monologues to the tune of  ‘I Will Survive’, future dames Sarah Niles and Olivia Colman wrestling to the tune of ‘Spice Up Your Life’, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor covering ‘Jolene’. Naturally, it is huge amounts of fun.

Written by Jonathan Harvey from Simon Doonan’s memoirs, this 2008 comedy drama follows the life of thirteen-year-old Simon, who isn’t letting the fact that he lives in the sururban drudgery of Reading get in the way of being absolutely fabulous. He dreams of moving to London but until then, we get to see tales from his eventful childhood.

It is wonderfully and unapologetically queer. Although there’s the occasional school bully and raised eyebrow at home, the show is a big and brash exploration of identity and the consequent downplaying of sexuality is all the more refreshing for it. And character-driven vignettes are always effective when they are populated with such well-drawn characters as these.

Olivia Colman is brilliant as Simon’s lovingly overbearing mother (it’s great to see her having so much fun in a role), Meera Syal’s kooky aunt is a complete riot, and Sarah Niles is everything as the trashy next-door neighbour. A fresh-faced Luke Ward-Wilkinson is perfectly suited to the Adrian Mole-isms of young Simon and Layton Williams – whatever happened to him…?! – is a scene-stealing scream as best friend Kylie. 

Each episode is jam-packed with visual and audio treats – a shop called Gallery Singleton, football lessons to ‘So Macho’, Colman giving us 5 seconds of  ‘Papa Can You Hear Me’, the hilarious funeral scene for Tameka Empson’s garrulous hairdresser, a timely reminder of skorts… – and by the time you’ve thrown in Dan Gillespie Sells’ chirpy theme tune (a Jamie prototype to be sure) and the lovely Samuel Barnett as the adult Simon narrating the whole thing, it’s a wonderfully uplifting experience. 

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