a docu-drama by Richard Curson-Smith
2007 | 75 mins | UK
›› Consenting Adults
the Wolfenden Report; 50th anniversary style.
Consenting Adults by Richard Curson-Smith Vastly different from the Kevin Kline feature of the same name, this dramatic work from the pen of Julian Mitchell marked the centrepiece of BBC4's series of programmes commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Wolfenden Report; namely the turning point in the legalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom.

For following the public outcry over the Very British Sex Scandal that was the 1954 trial and conviction of Peter Wildeblood, Lord Edward Montagu and his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers for matters relating to sexual misconduct, the government of the day was under both pressure and scrutiny. Their response was to kill two 'distasteful birds' with the one stone, by setting up a Home Office committee to look into the laws relating to homosexual offences and prostitution. In dire need of a strong chairman, they opted for one John Wolfenden, then Vice-Chancellor of Reading University and later life peer Baron Wolfenden of Westcott.

The committee first convened on the 15th September 1954, with Wolfenden setting the tone from the onset by declaring that homosexuals should be referred to as 'Huntleys' and prostitutes as 'Palmers' after the local Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory, so as to avoid 'embarrassing the stenographers' present. Yet the subjects under discussion would include references far more graphic, courtesy of the testimony of police, probation officers, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard, let alone esteemed sexologist Dr Alfred Kinsey, together with notably the moving statements of Peter Wildeblood upon his release from prison and headline trial for indecent acts.

Consenting Adults by Richard Curson-Smith Meeting for a total of sixty-two sessions, the committee would eventually come to recommend that 'homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence,' albeit with the exception of those serving in the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy. Even then, it would be another ten years before such became law through the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, only for the age of consent to remain at twenty-one, prompting the fight for full sexual equality to continue for many years to come, inparticular in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

That aside, what the report did achieve in the months following its publication, was to provoke a furious public debate on a subject that for some was still the love of shame. Yet here it was, out in the open and with the almost unanimous verdict that it should not be a crime. What is surprising however is that this solid work marks a faithful, if at times somewhat flat dramatisation, as somehow Mitchell struggles to inject life into the austere character that was John Wolfenden, even with Charles Dance on hand to deliver the very being of a reserved English gentleman, in a cast that is as rich with key players as it is with quality performances. Thankfully the production is redeemed by the unsung hero of the piece, in the form of Wolfenden's son, Jeremy. For here Mitchell revels in his character; queer and clever, this was a man whose homosexual openness to both his father and the Foreign Office became Wolfenden's nagging voice for gay rights.

In the end, Wolfenden did the right thing against his personal inclination. And yet the real gem of the story on offer here is the troubled relationship between a father and son, with Sean Biggerstaff as Jeremy playing the part with the arrogant charm and intellect indicative of the man himself, then a brilliant undergraduate at Oxford, due recipient of a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and thereafter the Daily Telegraph foreign correspondent in Moscow. The fact that he died two years before the reports' recommendation reached the statute book at the age of only thirty-one, only adds to a fascinating story of a journalist and spy that is waiting to be told. Screenwriters - take note!
 
a BBC4 drama premiere: Wednesday.5.September.2007.
starring: Charles Dance, Sean Biggerstaff, Samantha Bond, Mel Smith, Pip Torrens, Matt Ryan, Jamie Martin,
Mark Gatiss, Sean Scanlan, Haydn Gwynne, Paul Bentall, Robert Morgan, Richard Lintern,
John Standing, Colin Stinton and David Bamber.
Copyright 2010 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #141
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