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Sidney J. Furie
THIS SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP tells of the tender relationship between a twelve-year-old boy and the upperclass man who is the object of his desire. All set in the rigid atmosphere of a ... See full summary »
Three teenage brothers, gang-member Bobby, troubled mama's boy Alan and self-assured prankster Lex, reside in a downtrodden section of Glasgow, Scotland, circa 1968. But while Bobby and ... See full summary »
Reggie and Dot are a young South London couple who get married before they really get to know each other. After the marriage, they quickly begin to drift apart. Dot seems content to pursue her own interests, until Reggie meets Pete, a fellow cyclist, and begins to explore his own identity. Written by
Alan F. Hickman <email@example.com>
I think The Leather Boys can be engaging and awfully dramatic for audiences on the merits of simply its acting and direction, which is handled with a great deal of sensitivity, but a way into this film that makes it even more of a satisfying and heartbreaking experience is looking beyond the lines (and in-between as well of the text). This is the story that on the surface is fairly basic - a young biker named Reggie (Colin Campbell) gets married to a woman about his age and from the same town and school and all that (Rita Rushingham), simply because it's... what people did back then when they wanted to get out of their respective environments (or with a 'Shotgun' marriage approach, which this isn't, at least not exactly). But he's not attracted to her really, though she's endearing, and instead he focuses on his bike and his mate Pete (Dudley Sutton). And... there may be feelings there, just under the surface.
When I say 'beyond' the lines, think about how England was at the time, as much of America was and other places in the Western world: if you were gay, for the most part, if it wasn't a crime outright (in England it wasn't until 1967 by the way, which some may not know to today, so the context helps with a quick Google search of the info), then it was certainly looked at as abhorrent and ridiculous. The word 'Queer' is only used perhaps once in this film - from Tushingham's Dot to the two guys Reggie and Pete at a moment when she's just about had it - but it hangs over so much even before this, that those repressed feelings are there, as if it could be heard in a whisper, but if it ever goes above that it can be really dangerous (with the exception of one place near the end).
This is Sidney Furie dealing with this tale of closeted, gay love with tenderness but also a sense of full realism that is made interesting because of how he works with the actors - especially, throughout, Tushingham, who practically steals away much of the performance of Campbell, who is more subdued when he's not yelling at her in a "row", but he's good too, and eventually Sutton reveals a lot without even having to look at his actor (there's one really heartbreaking scene where it's clear Reggie has to move on from his time away from Dot at his grandmother's place, where Pete's been lodging, and how they talk to one another without looking is note perfect). But it's also Furie, from a book/script by Gillian Freeman, taking a look at how class has to do with it too; this was a hallmark of these "Kitchen Sink" dramas - and indeed there are at least a couple of scenes where Tushingham is acting in hysterics right next to a sink - and that all of the realism heightens the stakes for these characters.
There's work concerns that the characters deal with - Dot just stays in all day after they make their vows, and this also builds resentment from Reggie - but it's also the institution of marriage itself, what expectations come from that. This is a world that certainly would judge someone to hell if it came out that person was gay (who knows if women also were then, that subject's never broached here), but there's the part of it that... men got married to women because that's what they were told they HAD to do. A holdover from decades, centuries really, of men getting married and women getting married because it was what was required. The difference here is Reggie and Dot are working class, so the resentment increases aside from the attraction and lack of chemistry factor - she wants it, she can't read the signals, and, as we see in one key moment as Reggie watches her dancing with others as he sits and stews, he knows he doesn't but goes through the motions. At absolute best he can get a chuckle out of being tickled, or once in a while a moment sticks out as them being friendly.
Near the end it becomes clearer how conflicted Reggie is, that he has such a good, tight friendship with Pete, and probably (definitely?) knows there's more there. A key scene happens at what is clearly a gay bar - who knew they were there back in England, shows my ignorance I guess - and it makes him increasingly uncomfortable. A big decision about where the men will go is hanging in the air, but this scene is interesting in that a) I actually didn't understand all of the slang or accents, but it didn't matter, the body language and attitudes of the actors communicated all, and b) the moment right after this bar scene makes the tragedy complete while keeping open more ambiguity. I dare not reveal what it is, but it's shot by Furie and his cameraman, as with much of the film, with a directness that favors a wide view and yet so much emotion conveyed in the frame.
The Leather Boys is a look at a period of time that is probably gone now, and good riddance, but that doesn't mean people aren't still made to feel, whether from external or internal forces, like they can't come out and be who they are and love who they want to love, and that societies institutions contribute a lot to feeling alienated. There's a lot of alienation to this film, not to mention, lastly, some fun/exciting biker-riding footage. It's a really good film.
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