Different for Girls

(Richard Spence, UK, 1997)


Different for Girls is one of those eminently worthy films about contemporary sex and gender issues. It does not risk tastelessness, naivety or offence in the manner of Chasing Amy (1997) – the risks that ensure heated discussion. This British production treads on dangerous ground very carefully, keen to win assent from all ideological sectors and inspire a bit of old-fashioned goodwill.

It is a generally sunny fable about transsexuality. Kim (Steven Mackintosh), once a man, now works in the extremely feminine environment of a greeting card company. His encounter with Paul (Rupert Graves) stirs memories of the bad old days at school when they were both reviled as "fags", and formed a close friendship in the face of that common oppression.

These days, Paul is something of a Sensitive New Age Guy in comparison with his rowdy work mates. But his sense of his own heterosexuality is nonetheless rudely affronted by the spectacle of gender-switched Kim. Director Richard Spence and writer Tony Marchant, straining to pad out thin material, give us far too many scenes of Paul’s swaggering, posturing defences.

Beyond all the sanctimonious, unimaginatively filmed chat about identity, heart, understanding and commitment, there is a thrill at the heart of Different for Girls: the prospect of actual physical relations between our two nervous heroes. Unfortunately, the cinematographer’s lights become extremely dim whenever we approach this nitty-gritty moment – which is perhaps the modern equivalent to discreet fades to black or a camera-pan to the bedroom window in old Hollywood romances.

This film tries hard to dramatise and personalise its issues. It has, in its favour, two fine main performers, and a swag of excellent character players including Saskia Reeves and Miriam Margolyes. One cannot really fault the sympathetic intentions of the project but, as a film, it is pretty bland and forgettable – and when it comes to political cinema of any persuasion, that is the bottom line.

© Adrian Martin October 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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