Film Review: Get Real (1998)

Ben Silverstone (left) and Brad Gorton (right) star in this 'coming out' drama that captures one aspect of 90s Britain so well.
Ben Silverstone (left) and Brad Gorton (right) star in this ‘coming out’ drama that captures one aspect of 90s Britain so well.

Between 1988 and 2003  there was an amendment to the Education Act in the UK – known as the universally hated Section 28 it stated that schools ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ It is this piece of legislation and related opinions that Get Real (1998) provides a thoughtful comment upon.

I first watched Get Real quite randomly whilst late night channel hopping years ago, however I recently found it again on Netflix. Set in Basingstoke the story revolves around Steven Carter (Ben Silverstone) and his relationship with school’s popular guy John Dixon (Brad Gorton). There are many nuances to the plot – it’s not a straight forward teen movie and needs understanding of the time and place to really get to grips with it and Section 28 is probably where this begins and ends.

Capturing 1990s Britain fairly well, Steven knows he’s gay but won’t come out because of the homophobic abuse he already suffers in school. John has homosexual feelings but has no way of exploring them. Despite going to the same school – they actually meet in a random encounter in a toilet. The ensuing relationship is kept a secret because John is too scared of his reputation to come out – it is his friends after all that are bullying Steven. Alongside this, underpinning the values that existed in that time there is the school newspaper. As the film heads towards its denouement Steven writes an anonymous article that suggests that parents should not automatically assume their children are hetrosexual. The article when discovered on the system is refused publication by the school because it ‘isn’t the type of thing a decent school would publish’.

Of course the tension at the heart of this film is essentially John’s reluctance to come out and Steven’s anger that he can’t. The article provides a catalyst of school gossip resulting in John bowing to peer pressure and attacking Steven for being gay before Steven outs himself as he is presented with a prize at a school assembly. The sad and somewhat shocking aspect of this film even now for me is that even in 1990s Britain, the time period during which I grew up, this situation was allowed to happen – and the blame for that lay solely at the blame of whoever decided homosexuality shouldn’t be talked about to children in schools. Thankfully this has now been corrected.

Aside from the obviously major social commentary on what it might be like for two homosexual teenagers to grow up in 1990s Britain the film captures many other aspects of teen life quite well. From the underage drinking to the general mischief teenagers tend to get up to in the UK this is very much a British teen film that offers no idealism that might be gleaned from an American counterpart.

In short this is a good engaging film that has some fantastic music, decent acting and a plot that actually makes a serious point – so if you’re browsing through Netflix one day and you’re not sure what to watch, put this on. If you grew up in the time like me, you might get a little angry – if you have no idea what Section 28 was, then you might even end up being thankful that society isn’t like that anymore. Either way its worth a watch!

Nutleyone rating: 10/10

Get Real is currently available to watch on Netflix UK.