British screenwriter Jonathan Harvey is on the publicity trail for the film Beautiful Thing, out on DVD in Australia this week as the first release from fledgling gay distributor Love Films. There’s only one problem: more than 15 years have passed since he wrote it.

“It is weird talking about the film again after all this time. It started off as a play I wrote in 1992. Little did I think, sitting on my bed 17 years ago and doing it along with my homework, that it would be such a massive part of my life. It tickles me,” Harvey told Sydney Star Observer. “It really tickles me.”

The film adaptation of Harvey’s play was released in 1997, telling the story of a burgeoning relationship between two teenage boys living next door to each other in a block of high-rise flats in London. Sweet, sexy and easily relatable, the film was taken to heart by a whole generation of gay viewers — it’s usually found shoulder-to-shoulder with classics like Brokeback Mountain atop lists of the best queer films of all time.

“I’m aware of how special it is to a lot of people, which is lovely. And I suppose there aren’t a lot of English ‘coming out’ films around. You sort of have to cling on to these things when you’re gay, don’t you? There are so few films around that when something does come out, people really take it to their hearts,” Harvey said.

With the benefit of distance, Harvey — who has since gone on to write similarly-cherished gay TV shows like Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful People — is now more prepared to concede that the story is more than slightly autobiographical.

“When I went to see the play again recently, it felt a little bit like having people read my diary on stage. I think at the time it first premiered, there was a certain element of bravado to it — I shrugged off the autobiographical thing and tried to make myself look like this fabulous artist who’d invented it all. But there was certainly a lot of me in the story,” he admitted.

Seventeen years after he sat in his bedroom and wrote this affecting story of young gay love, does he think life is any easier for gay teenagers?

“I think a lot’s changed. The reason for writing the play in the first place was the archaic age of consent laws in the UK at the time. I wanted to challenge the idea that you had to be 21 to fall in love.

“The men running the country in those days had all been to boarding school, had all taken it up the arse from the prefects, and they just thought that was what being gay was all about — I wish!” he laughed.

“I just thought, no, it’s not about that, it’s not about your experience — here’s a different experience where these boys are making their own choices based on emotions rather than cocks and arses.”

info: Beautiful Thing is out now through Love Films.

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