DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal

“Do you think that homosexuality between 2 consenting males should be a criminal act”

A Very British Sex Scandal was a docu-drama that aired in 2007 on Channel 4. I watched it at the time and it has stuck with me ever since, a devastatingly powerful piece of film-making and a pertinent reminder of the struggles and battles that others fought in order for gay people to live in a more equal society today. Written and directed by Patrick Reams, it centres on the mid-1950s trial of several well-known men arrested for gross indecency and buggery which proved to be a landmark moment in solidifying public opinion against such legislation, stemming the virulently anti-homosexual political establishment and eventually leading to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Britain.

The film is a combination of dramatisations of key moments and events from the story interspersed with a set of interviews with gay men who were alive at the time. The mix is a good one: initially it is a roughly even mixture of the two, full of scene-setting shots in the drama but also providing much context of the realities of being a practising homosexual man in this era. These contributions are often eye-openingly frank and disturbingly brutal, it’s hard to think that it really wasn’t so long ago but this was just what life was like.  Continue reading “DVD Review: A Very British Sex Scandal”

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin

“Dirt is the enemy”

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes “for the purposes of the narrative”. Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining.

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming’s initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin”

Review: Plague Over England, Duchess Theatre

Nicholas De Jongh’s theatrical writing debut comes to the West End after a run on the fringe last year, and Plague Over England is a fine, thought-provoking piece of work. A look at attitudes to homosexuality during the 1950s, the play uses John Gielgud’s arrest for cottaging as a prism to see how the authorities dealt with the “moral plague” and how this affected the lives of a series of gay men. The set design is extraordinarily versatile with numerous changes throughout the play, evoking a vast range of different locations quite effectively and this is superbly bolstered by some fine ensemble acting, with many actors also doubling up.

I neglected to purchase a programme, so cannot name the actor who played the policeman, and this is meant to be a serious blog, but he is possessed of quite a fine set of abs. There was a collective gasp of appreciation when they were unveiled, almost enough to make me want to join a gym, but not quite! I mention the abs only because they featured in the best scene of the play with the pontificating of the railing homophobic Home Secretary counterpointed with the first coupling of the mis-matched copper and judge’s son. It is a wittily played vignette, my only caveat would be that it is only the young hunky members of the cast who seem to get it on, which slightly undermines the universality of the play in general. Continue reading “Review: Plague Over England, Duchess Theatre”