Friday, November 07, 2008

Beautiful People: A Beautiful Thing

I hate the phrase 'cult comedy' but I suspect Beautiful People (BBC2) may have merited that tag more than most. I'm surprised that I enjoyed it so much given that I'm generally resistant to the charms of camp men. (I belong to that class of gay men who argue that if we found femininity attractive then we would be heterosexual).
But in this case, the drama was heavily dependant on the 'differentness' of the two lead characters and the two boys who played Simon and Kylie (Luke Ward-Wilkinson and Layton Williams) were both jaw-droppingly brilliant and immensely likeable. Nobody will be at all surprised if they develop into major stars. Arguably, Layton Williams is already a star, having played Billy Elliot in the West End.

The dance number I mentioned in my previous piece remains the series' finest moment. But last night's final episode also had a great dance number:

On reflection, to say that the two boys personified gay stereotypes is too simplistic. There was an episode where Simon's Dad is prevailed upon by his wife to "macho him up" by teaching him football. This began with Simon flapping his arms and screaming every time he kicked the ball. It was very reminiscent of Renato teaching Albin to butter toast in the cafe in the film La Cage Aux Folles - one of the funniest scenes in one of the funniest films ever made.
But then came Simon's epiphany when he realised that football is just another type of choreography. He goes on to become the star player in the school team.
This was wonderfully perceptive. For the dancing feet of Christiano Ronaldo are just that: dancing feet. And a football match is nothing if not a piece of theatre. That's why I love it so much. That's why it's The Beautiful Game. There's that word 'beautiful' again, albeit not a term one would apply to all its exponents. Wayne Rooney, anyone?

The football episode also provided another example of writer Jonathan Harvey's trademark style. The school bully and Simon's former tormentor presents him with a Spice Girls doll, knowing he will like this more than a silver cup. Just as we're all reaching for the Kleenex, the boy says "one more thing" and punches Simon in the face. "Sorry", he says, "force of habit."

This series will long be cherished as one of the finest gay-themed comedy-musical-dramas. But it reached out beyond a niche audience because it dealt with universal themes - the power of dreams, family relationships and the audacity of hope (┬ęB. Obama).
It frequently moved me to tears because it was suffused with love, optimism and human resilience.
One of its heroes was Simon's Irish plumber father, reluctant to try and change Simon because "we said we wouldn't be like our own parents." And because "he's my son and I love the bones of him."
That's one of the reasons why Simon's concluding thought is: "wanting to find the beautiful people when maybe they were closer to home than I thought."

I've mentioned that Jonathan Harvey can rarely serve up sentimentality without immediately puncturing it. But as his play/film Beautiful Thing showed, he usually eschews cynicism at the very end. Thus it was that Beautiful People ended with the adult Simon putting a hand on the shoulder of his younger self and whispering "It's going to be all right."
Those six conjoined words being the most priceless in the language, the six words that we had all longed to say to Simon and Kylie for the previous six weeks. The six words many of us would like to have been able to say to our 14 year old selves.

And having just watched the last ten minutes again to get my quotes right, maybe my praise for this series hasn't been lavish enough. It had its flaws and sometimes misfired but it also had moments of genius and was a magnificent achievement by everyone who created it.
Thank you, BBC.

DVD available from all good Amazons.


At 5:53 PM, Blogger Vicus Scurra said...

Yes, bloody brilliant, I haven't seen the final episode yet, and am looking forward to it this evening.
It is a remarkable achievement to get the young actors to portray the characters with such feeling. It must be a really difficult subject for young actors to tackle. I wish we could have more of it.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

vicus: you're full of surprises. I thought you would have hated this.

There were many great performances but the weight of the whole series rested on those two kids and they were magnificent.
Hope you enjoyed the final episode. Linking the snow globe to the family in the window display (with its echo of The Last Supper)was wonderful.
I saw a rumour on YouTube of another series. Let's hope so.


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