Movie Review: 50 Years Legal

Released by Peccadillo Pictures

‘Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it’; a saying inspired by a quote by George Santanyana, is one I have always remembered from my school days.  However, like most LGBTQ+ people, I don’t remember being told anything of my own unique heritage, short of being told that we were murdered during the holocaust, and that was only a passing mention.  At the recent ‘Queer & Now’ exhibition at the Tate Gallery, an entire hall full of LGBTQ+ people were asked if they remember hearing anything of their heritage at school, and not one person put their hand up.

These are reasons why films such as ’50 Years Legal’ are vital records of the queer experience that are important to the whole of society, not just the rainbow corner of it.  Many LGBTQ+ people came away from this film feeling revitalised, vindicated and invigorated to go out and carry on the fight.  Others felt angry that some voices, such as bi voices, were omitted.  This is a question responded to by the film-maker, Simon Napier-Bell, in an interview that was recorded upon the film’s release.  Some of his interpretations of bi identities left me perplexed, and perhaps that speaks something of how much further we have to go.  Formerly a music manager, with a track record including ‘The Yardbirds’, ’T Rex’, ‘WHAM!’ and George Michael, Napier-Bell and his work have been pivotal to so much of recent popular (often very queer) culture.

He says himself that he wasn’t much of a campaigner in the past, which was partly why he felt the desire to do something now, and leave this record for people to pore over.  So hopefully, now and in the future, people can all try to understand a little bit more through the stories of the brave people who were there and did what they did.

Many well-known and well-loved celebrities share their stories, reminiscences and in some cases, something akin to a call-to-arms during the very pleasant 1hr and 15minutes that I spent in their company.  From Stephen K. Amos’ avuncular tales that carry important truths, to Stephanie Hirst’s cry of ‘it was tits or death!’ when regarding her transition, we get a better idea of where we came from, and where we need (and desire) to go.  Hearing the steadfast voice of veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell is surely enough to leave most people feeling a bit more inspired than they were before.  What was also special to me was the surprisingly large amount of stock footage of my queer forebears; dancing, talking, surviving, living in such brave defiance.  Some of their faces have been etched onto my memory after only a few seconds of screen time…I can’t help wondering what happened to them all.

Our story has mostly been forced into the shadows, the last 50 years of openness was the beginning of something else more glorious and proud.  This film and it’s message will help us and our allies stay in the full glare of the sun;  I cannot wait to see what we do, and I cannot wait to hear the future stories from all corners of our wonderful LGBTQ+ community.

It still stands as an excellent record of amazing, life-changing achievements, though I could have done with more bi and pan people and more people from a BAME background.  For anyone who wants to know their heritage, for anyone who wants to understand more, ’50 Years Legal’ is an excellent start to the process.

Courage mon braves!

More info here.

Review © Jezza Donovan 2018

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