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Consenting Adults

September 22, 2015

CAThis is a film based on the life of the Wolfenden family and some characters in the city of Reading, England. Wolfenden whoose son, Jeremy, professes to being Queer, is asked to chair a Home Office committee to look at the laws on Prostitution and Homosexuality. The story follows at least three story arcs:

Wolfenden starting up the committee and dealing with the people who are interviewed, then coming to a decision about the laws surrounding prostitution and homosexuality.

Jeremy Wolfenden’s life as a young homosexual man in 1950s Britain. His arrival and sucess at Oxford, his stresses as a ‘queer’ man and the debates between him and his Father.

Labourer, Charlie Bollard’s relationship with ’23 men’ and particularly with Parker the baker with whom he becomes obsessed. Bollard is arrested and charged with ‘offences’ and sees his former partners sentenced to ‘an average of 3 and a half years in goal’.

The intertwining stories tell the story of what it was like to be homosexual in 1950s England.

Wolfenden is a wise, old-fashioned kind of chap, yet he has a bumbling awkward way about him that is endearing; when he has his first meeting with the committee, he suggests they refer to homosexuals as Huntleys and prostitutes as Palmers. The basis of his idea stemming from the Huntley & Palmer biscuit factory he passed on the train. To which one fellow lady committee member hastily replies; “Oh, lets just call a tart a tart!” Sir John simply sits back in his chair, and takes a steady puff on his pipe.

We see the turbulent, yet loving relationship of Sir John and his son blossom into full-blown approval, with Jeremy citing the closing piece of his Father’s legacy; “You did the right thing against your own inclination. That makes you an admirable man.” Indeed, it does. Lord Wolfenden was voted one of the Pink Papers ‘Gay Heroes’ in 1997.

Jeremy was a bright, intelligent academic with a calling at Oxford. He was also gay. His sexual preferences became the source of many heated arguments between the two men but publicly Wolfenden acted upon reason rather than his own personal prejudices in helping to bring about an eventual change in the law that would be the start of gay campaigning for equal rights.

Richard Bevan interviewed Mitchell about the making of Consenting Adults:….I didn’t know Jeremy at all well at Oxford. He was a year ahead of me and dauntingly clever – a star. Also he was openly, even challengingly queer (we didn’t say ‘gay’ in those days) and I hadn’t then come to terms with my own sexuality. He scared me. I knew nothing about his father or their relationship, but before writing the play I asked some of his friends what they thought then used my imagination…At my public school I had lots of guilty sex – but we all told each other that it was a ‘passing phase’ out of which we would grow as soon as we got into the real world. Love never came into it. But when I got to Oxford, after two almost chaste years in the Navy, I found my own phase had not passed. I kept falling in love with embarrassed and uncomprehending straight men – I was romantically A.E. Housman to their Moses Jacksons. It was a way of postponing a truth I couldn’t deal with, I suppose. Though the subject of homosexuality was ceaselessly discussed and no doubt some people were busily at it, there was no action for me at Oxford at all. I was too afraid to go cruising – I didn’t know how to set about it, even, and people were always getting arrested. The shame and disgrace were not to be thought of. At home, my father was rabidly anti-queer – there was no question of help or understanding there. After three years of increasing frustration and occasional thoughts of suicide – and one year after the Wolfenden Committee had reported – a kind friend told me about the Turkish Baths in Jermyn Street, and it was there that a visiting South African picked me up, and took me back to his hotel. The sex wasn’t very good, but the relief was fantastic. …..Major social changes are forgotten incredibly quickly – people think them so obviously right, they forget what struggles and sacrifices were made to bring them about. I’ve been astonished to find that hardly anyone under fifty knows what the Wolfenden Committee was and did, and people in their twenties express amazement that there were ever laws against gays at all. If people don’t know how difficult it was to produce a society even as half-decent as ours now is, then we’re liable to lose what decency there is. …….There were a large number of mass trials of ‘rings’ of queers, when the police offered immunity to people in return for the names of their partners. It’s not surprising that most queers preferred to remain ‘invisible’; they were afraid they might lose their jobs if people knew what they were…….it’s generally true that if you were middle-class you were pretty safe; at least you had somewhere you could take a lover. Not having a flat or room of your own created obvious difficulties. People who cottaged or went out looking for sex in parks or wherever were always living dangerously. (Some people enjoyed the danger, of course, it gave an added frisson.) ….Then it depended where you lived. There was and always had been a flourishing queer life in London, so queers naturally gravitated there from the rest of the country, just as in the US they gravitated to New York and San Francisco. It’s always said that the East End was more tolerant of queers than other areas, but I’m not sure if this was really so.

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From → Film, Sexuality

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