An article first published in Scarlet Street issue no. 34. Republished here with the permission of the author, Tom Lynch (a regular visitor to the bensilverstone.net site).
“I came late to sex, I was nearly 10.” With these provocative lines, so begins the entertaining, involving and enriching “GET REAL”. The new British film centres around Steven Carter (Ben Silverstone), a 16-year-old who is clever, bold, in love … and gay. Besides being a keenly observant portrait of the difficulties that all young adults, gay and straight, face as we approach the new millennium, Scarlet Street detected some old friends while we were getting real.To solve this mystery, and to gain insight into the many layers of this complex work, Scarlet Street went directly to the directly to the source, screenwriter Patrick Wilde. The clever, talented and charming Mr. Wilde is not only a writer whose credits include the innovative British TV series THIS LIFE, but also a successful actor and director in UK theatre.
Steven Carter lives in the London suburb Basingstoke with his mum (Jacquetta May) and dad (David Lumsden). There’s also a doctor in the house, but the doctor in this house is … Dr. Who! For you see, Dad’s hobby is the 1963-88 science fiction series. There’s a Dr. Who clock in the kitchen and Dad even spends the odd weekend going to Who conventions, in full Cyberman costume. Patrick Wilde explains that director Simon Shore asked him to write the characters of Steven’s parents “interesting and quirky and funny” rather than just “obstacles to Steven’s happiness.” Dad’s interest in Dr. Who also adds some unexpected resonance. “Who are you?” demands the Dalek voice thundering from the TV set as Steven and Dad look at each other like aliens! “What is your problem?” asks Dad. Steven can make no reply in a world where it is gay people who are often treated like real-life aliens.
Sharp-eyed viewers will also notice that among the pictures and posters adorning Steven’s bedroom are Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster and Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. Horror icons next to soccer players? Well, it rings true as part of the unpredictable world of this typical, and not so typical, 16-year-old. It is “quite crucial that he is 16,” according to Wilde, because in England “age of consent laws are still different for gay men and heterosexuals. The House of Commons, which has a lay majority, voted overwhelmingly to reduce the age of consent for gay men to 16 (the age of consent for heterosexuals), but the House of Lords, a non-elected assembly, has the power to forestall bills … to vote them out basically, and that’s what happened.”
This injustice, clarifies Wilde, “causes unbelievable harm to people, because you are essentially a criminal by the way you are born. It doesn’t give you a very good start in life.” Patrick Wilde has every right to be angry. In fact, GET REAL started life as a London stage play called WHAT’S WRONG WITH ANGRY? But, cautions Wilde, there is a big difference between angry and bitter. “Anger can actually be a positive emotion if you channel it in the right way.”
The story of Steven Carter and his rocky relationship with the handsome closeted John Dixon (Brad Gorton), the school “head boy” and athletic star, certainly channels all the elements in the right way. The film is rich with humour. The teen characters, who are actually played by teenagers (no John Travolta or Stockard Channing in this high school), are awarded the fully drawn depth and honesty of any adult character, and actors Charlotte Brittain, Stacy A. Hart, Kate McEnery, and Patrick Nielsen do them full justice.
Best of show is Ben Silverstone. If there has never been a screen character like Steven Carter (refreshingly angst free about his sexuality), likewise there has never been a performance quite like Silverstone’s. Pulsing with crackling humour, shot through with truth, heartbreaking in his deeply felt pain, the ultimate effect is pure joy. Says Patrick Wilde:
“Part of his acting talent is that he’s just incredibly bright. He’s a straight A student at Cambridge University now. Simon Shore, the director, didn’t give him many notes. We didn’t want to lose that instinctive and raw quality … he’s a bit of a phenomenon.”
Phenomenal might also describe the audience reaction to GET REAL. It has racked up many honours, including the Audience Award at the 1998 Edinburgh Film Festival, the Audience Award, Grand Jury Prize, and Cinematography Award (widescreen lensing by Alan Almond) at the 1998 Dinard Film Festival, and was an official selection at both the 1998 Toronto and 1999 Sundance film festivals.
What’s next for writer Patrick Wilde? He’s like to see GET REAL shown in UK schools. “Today’s straight teenagers are tomorrow’s parents,” Wilde reminds us. As he counts DEATH IN VENICE and “huge, big, epic historical films” among his personal favourites, will directing as well as writing films be something we can expect of him? Well, he admits. “I’m a bit of a control freak and I like telling people what to do. So it was either this … or the army.”
Don’t ask, don’t tell – but do see GET REAL.