Directed and written by Simon Napier-Bell, created to coincide with the 50 anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, this is an engaging but informative journey through LGBT history in UK since 1967 and how changes in politics and social attitudes, for better or worse, have evolved over the subsequent decades.
The documentary features interviews with a veritable who’s who of leading LGBT activists and cultural commentators from across the generations, discussing topics such as homophobia, acceptance, diversity and gender identity.
There are personal accounts from actors such as Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, singers such Sir Elton John, Marc Almond (Soft Cell), and Olly Alexander (Years & Years), and comedians such as Matt Lucas and Zoe Lyons.
Transgender activists such as Jake Graf and Paris Lees offer honest reflection alongside journalists such as Matthew Todd and Matthew Parris and politicians such as Lord Michael Cashman.
50 Years Legal is both a celebration of battles won and lives lived – in Simon Napier-Bell’s own words,
“My original idea for 50 Years Legal was to interview a cross-section of people – both celebrities and ordinary folk – about gay life since decriminalisation in the 60s, then edit it into a chatty piece of entertainment. Within a day of starting I realised it was impossible. The resulting programme would be at least four hours long and I’d only been asked to make a 90-minute film.
Instead, I would have to stick to one central theme and follow it closely. And because the Sexual Offences act of 1967 was only a partial decriminalisation, and for many gays made things worse rather than better, the film became the fight for equal rights.
My first surprise was the activist streak I found in nearly everyone I talked to, even those in whom I’d never before observed it. And as the interviews progressed I began to feel I’d been a rather lazy gay these last fifty years. Perhaps I should have done more to help. On the other hand, as person after person stressed that activism need involve little more than just being openly gay and uncowed, I felt better. At least I’d always been that!
The progress that’s been made from the very partial decriminalisation of 1967, until 2017 when gay marriage was made legal, to today’s openness in discussing transsexual matters, is amazing. In the 70s and 80s, gays could still be prosecuted for exchanging phone numbers or having sex in a hotel bedroom. Today, in law at least, there is complete equality with straight life. And the film charts that progress.
It was achieved by a blend of arts and activism. Both Stephen Fry and Michael Cashman make the point that while marching and protesting in public were important, it was always the arts that led the political agenda. Whether it was Peter Finch and Murray Head with the first screen kiss, Quentin Crisp with his breathtaking flamboyance, or Tom Robinson’s passionately angry ‘Glad to be Gay’, it was always artists that broke the ice.
The work of political activists was to convert the public’s increasing acceptance into law before it could backslide.
The overwhelming conclusion of the film is that it’s not so much tolerance that overcomes prejudice as familiarity. Letting everyone live their life the way they want to without feeling the need to interfere. (But with laws in place just in case.) Fortunately, we’re almost there”.
This documentary is a brief yet highly informative look at the past 50 years of LGBT rights in the UK. At 90 mins this documentary finds the perfect balance of ‘showbiz’ interviews and interviews from key politicians/activists who helped bring in key legalisation and changes. A must watch !!!! 4/5
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