Commemorating the 50th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in Britain, openly gay entertainer Rupert Everett is taking a walk back in time.
Fifty years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, openly gay entertainer Rupert Everett is taking a walk back in time – and it’s leading him straight into an underground public toilet in Manchester with a retired policeman named Roger.
Standing together at a set of forgotten urinals (pants firmly zipped, mind you), a softly-spoken Roger is recalling how his role once required him to spot and arrest men for suspected homosexuality. This, he explains to Rupert, would involve trying to spot men committing lewd acts (namely masturbation) in public.
“How are you going to see if I’ve got an erection from over there?” Rupert asks Roger, who is standing two urinals down.
“We can see over the top,” explains Roger very seriously, adding that they could „see your arm moving for masturbation”.
“And you’d say?” asks Rupert.
“I’m a police officer, I’m arresting you for importuning for an immoral purpose.”
Rupert Everett makes an ideal storyteller for Fifty Shades of Gay, his theatrical flare softening the injustices faced by British gay men in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, which included being harassed, beaten, arrested, and fired from their jobs.
As such, the Channel 4 documentary sees Everett expertly weave parallel stories; that of the wider queer community’s journey from underground defiance to equality in England, as well as his own personal journey — from following a leather-clad stranger into a gay bar for the first time, to expressing his sexuality without fear or reservation throughout his esteemed career.
Of course, since homosexuality was decriminalised 50 years ago, England became one of the first countries to achieve marriage equality. The country, Everett concedes, has come an incredibly long way.
“I can only imagine what my father would have thought as he took the train from Wittam into Liverpool Street,” Everette says during the film’s opening. „And then the news — homosexuality had been legalised.”
He continues with a grin: “Not knowing that far away across the country I was there in my little shorts, plotting and preparing for a long career as a screaming queen.”
As an Australian viewer, the film hits particularly close to home. This is partly due to the fact that, when it comes to the ongoing pursuit of rights for LGBTIQ+ people, Australia has often fallen behind the United Kingdom. While homosexuality was first decriminalised in parts of Australia in 1975, it wasn’t made legal in Tasmania until1997. As such, there’s a sense that while our histories mightn’t be shared entirely, the present-day mood of England’s queer community might foreshadow that of Australia’s.
Everett’s exploration feels earnest and well-considered, informed, in part, by two overarching questions: on the long journey to mainstream acceptance for members of the LGBTIQ+ community, has something been lost? Have we sacrificed community and the spirit of the outsider for the rather conservative values of the straight world?
Through visits to his old watering holes, „soft porn” television sets, and forgotten beats, Everett equips viewers with the context and information necessary to consider the importance of these questions, inviting them to draw their own conclusions.
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