It’s 1965, the eve of decriminalisation for acts of male homosexuality. Matthews, a young gay man at odds with the world and his own sexuality discovers love, sex and a family in the backstreets and underground bars of Soho. Created as a response to the dearth of queer stories in period dramas and adapted from Thomas Hescott and Matthew Baldwin’s play, which he directed at the Ovalhouse and the Trafalgar Studios in 2014, The Act, which premiered at Raindance, is a classic love story, framed by verbatim text taken from House of Commons debate about the Act.
This March, The Act will be screened as part of BFI Flare, a festival to showcase the best new LGBTIQ+ cinema from around the world, as part of their Hearts’ Desires short film programme.
The film juxtaposes the rigid conformity of society, with the colour and energy of the underground world of 1960s Soho, and the intimacy and immediacy of a burgeoning illicit relationship. Two times Tony nominee Samuel Barnett plays Matthews, a bureaucrat whose life is changed forever when he falls in love with Jimmy. Samuel also was nominated for an Olivier award, won a Drama Desk Award and two WhatsOnStage awards and was nominated for a BIFA for the feature film version of The History Boys. His current leading role is in BBCAmerica/Netflix show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Matthew’s lover Jimmy is played by Simon Lennon, currently appearing as Ben in Emmerdale. Simon’s other credits include Our Girl (BBC), Bridgerton (Netflix), Grantchester (ITV), OurTown (Almeida Theatre) and Tory Boyz (Ambassadors Theatre). The cast is completed by Cyril Nri and Annette Badland.
Writer/Director Thomas Hescott spent 20 years directing theatre before moving into film and television and currently works on long-running shows including Casualty, Holby City and EastEnders. He wrote and directed the original theatre production of The Act which was nominated for an Off-West End award for most promising writer. His production of The British Ambassadors’ Belly Dancer transferred from The Arcola to the West End and his production of Wolves at The Window transferred from the Arcola to New York for an Off Broadway run.
For the film adaptation, Thomas was joined on writing duties by long-term Eastenders writer Pete Lawson, winner of the 2017 Gay Times Honour for Impact in Media, TV and Entertainment, and Matthew Baldwin, whose writing credits include I Miss The War (part of the Queers series for BBC directed by Mark Gatiss) Outings (co-written with Thomas Hescott) which had a National Tour and played in the West End, and The Act’s original theatre incarnation. The film is produced by award-winning producer Elettra Pizzi.
Speaking about the film, Samuel Barnett said “As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it was humbling to be part of a film that describes a pivotal moment in the fight for equal rights through the lens of two men’s journeys towards living with integrity and dignity. It’s so important that we don’t forget how far we have come and who’s shoulders we stand on, and how much more work there is to do, especially as we are seeing these rights being rolled back in so many places across the world today. It was a privilege to play Mr. Matthews and to be part of such an incredible team of creatives and technicians; truly one of the most wonderful and rewarding acting experiences I have ever had.”
Producer Elettra Pizzi said “We were extremely excited to bring Thomas Hescott’s play to screen. The life of Soho in 1965 jumped out of the page and the characters in the screenplay were vivid and complex. We are incredibly proud in seeing the festival circuit and the audience responding so positively to The Act”