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the man behind "beautiful thing"
Jonathan Harvey wrote the book on love
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BEAUTIFUL THING is a movie about two Brit boys falling in love. Just landing in America, it's already taken its native country of England by storm, as a play and as a film. It's the brainchild of Jonathan Harvey who, tired of the lack of gay images in pop culture, turned his fantasies into a hit play five years ago with a sold out run in London's West End - and then the blockbuster movie.
"I'd been growing up without any role models or images to identify with." the author relates in his English accent. "There's only so many times you can watch 90210 and pretend to be Tory Spelling being taken to the prom by some gorgeous guy!" It was then that Harvey, already well-known for his work in youth theater, finally began to write from the heart. "As soon as I started writing boy-meets-boy, it just got more moving and touching because that's the stuff I know about. I guess in the end we are better truth tellers than liars."
The resulting Beautiful Thing is a refreshingly honest yet simple tale, to which anyone who ever had a crush on the boy next door can definitely relate. And guess what - it actually has a happy ending! "I do think it can happen like that," Harvey professes. "I didn't want the boys throwing themselves off the nearest building at the end." I wanted to give hope. I wanted them to dance."
It's a magnificent scene. After many trials and tribulations in their relationship, 16yo Jamie embraces his boyfriend Ste in full view of neighborhood family and friends. With all eyes upon them, the two slow dance unashamedly while Mama Cass belts out "Make Your Own Kind Of Music" on the film's hip soundtrack. And yes. They do kiss. It is this kiss that has not only earned Beautiful Thing an R rating (in England you only have to be 15 to see it) but has also prevented coming attractions of the film being shown in theaters playing PG movies, as well as American television which, unbelievably, has yet to ever show two boys kissing! *
"Maybe we should have them shoot each other," Harvey cracks "Then it could have run with Disney films."
Turning the play into a movie was a welcome challenge for Harvey, as he was finally able to use actors the same age as his lead characters. "In the stage version, the actors were always in their early 20s, as we were never able to find anyone 16 who could deal with the emotional journey of the two hour live production. Now they don't have to act being 16. They just are."
Handling the roles of Jamie and Ste with much courage and sensitivity were young British heartthrobs Glen Berry and Scott Neal, who beforehand have only been seen playing tough-as-nails punks and thugs. "What you're actually seeing on screen through the camera's eyes was the first time those guys ever did those types of things.," Harvey reveals. "They'd never kissed each other before which made it awkward, but very natural. Our director, Hettie MacDonald, was very good. She could coax them into doing anything."
Considering that England only produces 10 feature films a year, the fact that a gay project was chosen to be one makes Harvey's achievement even more incredible. And so far, the response has been tremendously positive. All types of audiences have embraced it, making it a breakthrough hit. "It isn't just a gay film anymore," Harvey says. "Gay and straight teens. Moms. Dads. They all love it. It's got rude jokes, it's funky, and I think it surprises them. Especially young kids who leave the theatre with the attitude that it's truly out of order not to like gay people."
Changing attitudes is, after all, a major concern of Harvey's, whose hope for gay youth today is that they will find it increasingly easier to express their thoughts and feelings. "I didn't have much of a vocabulary to use when I was 18 and trying to come out. The conversations I would have with my mother... She used to say things like "Why are you gay?" I wasn't able to answer her then. Today I might respond "Why are you straight?" but that's because society has changed. It's grown up and learned the words. And those words are given by films like Beautiful Thing and magazines like XY."
Speaking of Mom - what did Harvey's mom think of his film? "I took her and my family to see it in Liverpool. I thought that they would freak out at some of the scenes - two boys kissing all fluffy and sweet. But in the taxi on the way home, my Mom and Aunties were all gushing about the love scene in the woods and how lovely it was and how it had made them cry!" And that's what it's all about: love. If nothing else, that's the message Harvey wants viewers, especially gay teens, to take away from Beautiful Thing. "The transforming power of love," he sighs. "Once you have that special someone, you can truly take on anything the world throws your way."
Up next, Harvey's writing a brand new musical with the Pet Shop Boys, due out later this year. ["Right now it's just an excuse to go out for drinks!" he confesses.] With all his gay themed projects behind and ahead of him, some might think Jonathan Harvey is afraid of typecasting, but he's not. "I don't care if I am pigeonholed. I've done quite well with being honest. I've never had so much fun in my life." Words to make music by.