I love everything about this film. I love that it’s a positive gay love story between two working class schoolboys. I love that it’s got a happy ending. I love skinny, sulky Phil, who’s coming to terms with his bisexuality. I love brave, beautiful Matthew, who never lies to anyone. I love the lingering, charged shots in deserted swimming pools and empty south-coast beaches. I love the honesty with which it addresses homophobia: the insults scrawled inside lockers (Queer! Bastard! Bum Boy!), the physical attacks, the relentless disgust and ignorance of parents, policemen and teachers.
I love the 1980s fashions: the Nike High Tops and white socks, the stonewashed jeans and button-down shirts. I love the discos, where badly dressed teenagers slow dance to Kate Bush songs. I love the recklessness with which the boys run away together; the pride in Phil’s voice when he announces: “We’re on our honeymoon.” I love that it stars a young Kathy Burke, though I don’t much like how oppressively anti-gay all the women are. But most of all I love that it was made by the BBC Schools SCENE series, and shown on national television in 1988, just as Thatcher was fighting to pass Clause 28 into law. Clause 28 of the Local Government Act forbade local authorities from “intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, thereby inaugurating more than a decade of state-sponsored homophobia (it was finally repealed in 2003).
I grew up in one of those pretended family relationships, and I knew how poisonous Clause 28 was. In that toxic environment, Two of Us felt like a minor miracle, even if it did originally have to be screened at night and with a more ambiguous fake ending. There might not be much physical contact between the boys, but there’s no doubt at all from the script that they’re having sex. “Phil and me are lovers”, Matthew explains to a friend. “We do it. We sleep together. We kiss. We hold hands. It’s not a lark. It’s not a bit of a giggle. We mean it.” No wonder it provoked a tabloid frenzy. Nearly twenty-five years later, I’m still rooting for the two of them. I can’t think of a braver film, or a better example of why public television can be such a magical antidote to ignorance and fear.
Check out the whole film on Youtube.
Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. She’s the former deputy literary editor of the Observer and her first book, To the River, is published by Canongate.