Beautiful Thing (film)

Beautiful Thing is a 1996 British film directed by Hettie MacDonald and released by Channel 4 Films.[2] The screenplay was written by Jonathan Harvey based on his own original play of the same name.

Beautiful Thing
Australian promotional poster for the film
Directed byHettie MacDonald
Produced byTony Garnett
Bill Shapter
Written byJonathan Harvey
Music byJohn Altman
Distributed bySony Pictures Classics (United States)
Release date
  • 21 June 1996 (1996-06-21)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$3,072,738[1]

The film was originally intended for television broadcast only, but it was so well-received that it was subsequently released in cinemas. The atmosphere of the film is heavily influenced by a soundtrack consisting almost entirely of the music of The Mamas & the Papas and "Mama" Cass Elliot.


The story is set and filmed on Thamesmead, a working class area of South East London dominated by post-war council estates.[3][4]

Jamie (Glen Berry), a teenager who is infatuated with his classmate, Ste, has to deal with his single mother Sandra (Linda Henry), who is pre-occupied with ambitious plans to run her own pub and with an ever-changing string of lovers, the latest of whom is Tony (Ben Daniels), a neo-hippie.

Sandra finds herself at odds with Leah (Tameka Empson), a sassy and rude neighbour who has been expelled from school, does several drugs, and constantly listens and sings along to her mother's Cass Elliot records. While Jamie's homosexuality remains concealed, his introvert nature and dislike of football are reason enough for his classmates to bully him at every opportunity.

Ste (Scott Neal), who is living together with his drug-dealing brother and abusive, alcoholic father in the flat next door, is one night beaten by his brother so badly that Sandra takes pity and lets him sleep over. In the absence of a third bed, Ste has to make do with sleeping 'top-to-toe' with Jamie. On the second night they share a bed: after a massage and a minor conversation, the boys soon change sleeping arrangements and Jamie kisses Ste for the first time.

The next morning, Ste panics and leaves before Jamie awakens, avoiding him for days. Jamie works up the nerve to steal a Gay Times from a newsagent, apparently starting to accept his sexuality and affection for Ste. Jamie finally spots Ste at a nearby party and confronts him; they prepare to leave together. The party ends badly, with Sandra taking vengeance on Leah for gossiping, who then threatens to 'spill the beans' about Ste and Jamie and confesses to having covered up for Ste in front of his father and brother. Ste reacts poorly, angrily rejecting Jamie and running away.

Slowly, Ste accepts Jamie's love and their relationship begins to develop as they visit a gay pub together. Sandra follows them and discovers their secret, and the film reaches its climax as a bad trip by Leah (on an unnamed drug) precipitates Sandra's breakup with Tony; the news of Sandra's new job comes out; and Sandra confronts Ste and Jamie. Sandra comes to accept her son's relationship.

The film ends with the two boys slow-dancing in the courtyard of their council flats to the Cass Elliot song "Dream a Little Dream of Me", while a guarding Sandra dances defiantly at their side with Leah as the local residents look on; some of them shocked, some of them strongly disapproving; and some of them enjoying the moment themselves.


Actor Role
Glen BerryJamie Gangel
Scott NealSte Pearce
Linda HenrySandra Gangel
Ben DanielsTony
Tameka EmpsonLeah Russell
Jeillo EdwardsRose Russell
Anna KarenMarlene
Sophie StantonLouise
Julie SmithGina
Terry DugganKevin
Garry CooperRonnie Pearce
Daniel BowersTrevor Pearce
Meera SyalMiss Chauhan
Martin WalshMr. Bennett
Steven MartinRyan McBride
Andrew FraserJayson
John SavageLenny
Ozdemir MamodeallySlasher
John BenfieldRodney Barr
Davyd HarriesBrewery Official
Beth GoddardBrewery Official
Marlene SidawayBetty
Liane WareClaire
Catherine SandersonKelly
Dave LynnDrag Performer
Jonathan HarveyWheelchair Queen (uncredited)

Critical reception

Beautiful Thing has been mostly commended by contemporary critics. The film holds a 91% approval rating on the reviewing aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews, with a weighted average of 6.67/10. The site's consensus reads: "An engaging slice of life drama that happens to double as a gay coming-of-age story, Beautiful Thing captures its place and time with deceptive depth and skill".[5]

Roger Ebert wrote "The most interesting scenes involve the characters around them, who all but steal the movie. The boys’ lives contain few surprises, but from the other characters there is one astonishment after another."[6] Stephen Holden from The New York Times commented "Ms. Henry is wonderful as a woman whose fighting spirit masks a streak of hard-bitten tenderness."[6]

Home media

In the United States, the film was released domestically by Sony Pictures Classics.[7][8] The film was released on DVD in UK 2001 and again in 2007.

Some of the actors that appeared in Beautiful Thing appeared in other work by Jonathan Harvey.

  • Tameka Empson and Meera Syal played major roles in Beautiful People.
  • Empson and Linda Henry now appear in EastEnders.
  • Beth Goddard appeared in Gimme Gimme Gimme.
  • Harvey himself made a cameo appearance, which he also did in Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful People.


Beautiful Thing
Soundtrack album by
Released15 October 1996
LabelMCA Records

A soundtrack for the film was released by MCA Records on 15 October 1996.[9]

Track listing

1."It's Getting Better"Barry Mann, Cynthia WeilMama Cass2:59
2."One Way Ticket"Bruce Hart, Stephen J. LawrenceMama Cass2:46
3."California Earthquake"John HartfordMama Cass3:22
4."Welcome to The World"Martin Eagle Siegal, Scott EnglishMama Cass2:19
5."Make Your Own Kind of Music"Barry Mann, Cynthia WeilMama Cass2:19
6."Creeque Alley"John Phillips, Michelle PhillipsThe Mamas and The Papas3:48
7."Dream a Little Dream of Me"Fabian Andre, Wilbur SchwandtThe Mamas and The Papas3:13
8."Move in a Little Closer, Baby"Robert O'Connor, Arnold Jay CapitanelliMama Cass2:37
9."California Dreamin'"John Phillips, Michelle PhillipsThe Mamas and The Papas2:40
10."Monday, Monday"John PhillipsThe Mamas and The Papas3:27
11."I Saw Her Again"John Phillips, Denny DohertyThe Mamas and The Papas3:13
12."Words of Love"John PhillipsThe Mamas and The Papas2:11
13."Dedicated to the One I Love"Lowman Pauling, Ralph BassThe Mamas and The Papas2:58
14."Look Through My Window"John PhillipsThe Mamas and The Papas3:05
15."Go Where You Wanna Go"John PhillipsThe Mamas and The Papas2:29
16."Beautiful Thing Medley"John AltmanJohn Altman7:59


  1. "Beautiful Thing".
  2. Derek Elley (10 March 1996). "Beautiful Thing". Variety. p. 77. Pic, which also unspools at this year's AFM, had buyers scrambling for their cell phones in the Berlin market and is rumored to be a contender for a spot in the sun at Cannes. Its world preem is set for March 28 in the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
  3. Benedict Nightingale (3 August 1993). "If only things were so simple". The Times. Into the Bush we go and what strikes our eager eyes? Concrete paving, grey stucco walls, drab doors with 368, 369 and 370 embossed on them, and, as a feeble protest against the gloom, a few flowerpots and plaster dwarfs. This is the third floor of a council estate in Thamesmead, and as unlikely a setting for a play called Beautiful Thing as Buckingham Palace's gardens would be for Les Miserables.
  4. "The council cries foul play". Evening Standard. 24 November 1994. p. 43. Jonathan Harvey's West End hit Beautiful Thing is 'sickening' – that's official – as far as Bexley Borough Council is concerned. Harvey's play, about gay love is, of course, set in Thamesmead, part of which falls under the council's aegis. You might think fame for the borough would fill the breast of Bexley Tory councillor Graham R Holland, but no. The Duke of York's Theatre last week received a very severe letter from him on the council's headed paper. It criticises the billing of Harvey's gay love story as a comedy, and says the Holland family were 'intimidated' by gays in the bar and that they found 'the sight of older men with young lads was sickening, if legal'. He goes on to complain about the play's 'sordid' language: 'It was gratuitous, foul and offensive and was neither relevant nor, with my experience of Thamesmead ... in any way typical of the young people with whom I am in contact.' The shocked family group left after 20 minutes.
  5. "Beautiful Thing". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  6. Alexander Ryll (2014). "Essential Gay Themed Films To Watch, Beautiful Thing". Gay Essential. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  7. "Sony Pictures Classics".
  8. "Beautiful Thing".
  9. Beautiful Thing soundtrack. Retrieved 30 November 2008.
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