By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Film critic
SAN FRANCISCO — When I started writing reviews of films with transgender characters and themes, I thought there would be a lack of material for me to watch. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong. There are, in fact, many; the shortage is in films in English. Spanish and French filmmakers seem to find us more interesting than their American counterparts, though the British are a bit better. Ruby Blue is a film from the U.K. that was made in 2007. It feature the prominent English actor Bob Hoskins as Jack and Josiane Balasko as his neighbour, Stephanie.
The story begins in a graveyard. Jack is riding in a car with his son, Sean (Sam Talbot). Sean is driving Jack home with an urn containing the ashes of their wife and mother. The mood is sombre, mixed with anger on the part of Sean. They’ve been estranged for several years and when he drops Jack off, he admonishes him that he will never see him again.
The loss of his wife and rejection by his son sends Jack into a deep depression. He stops shaving and bathing and hides in his house. Jack is a recovering alcoholic; he takes walks with a bottle of whisky. He sits in a park bench looking at it, then walks away, leaving the bottle behind.
Jack has a covey of pigeons, homing pigeons. It’s a very English sort of hobby and they even have races. Jack has some new neighbours. One day while in his yard caring for the pigeons, a young girl named Florrie (Jessica Stewart) peeks over the fence. Jack yells at her and tells her to go away. Instead, she runs over to his yard. Grumpy old man Jack now has a new friend.
The following day his other new neighbour, Stephanie, runs into him at the grocery store. Stephanie is a trans woman from France who, like many of us, struggles to find a partner. She’d been stood up the night before and takes the opportunity to introduce herself. She notices that Jack is living on canned food and admonishes him for his poor eating habits, telling him she will cook for him.
Jack now has the people who will make some very positive changes in his life as he will bring to others, especially a neighbour boy named Ian who is on his way to being a hoodlum. Jack’s attention will make a difference.
The film would be incomplete without villains. The main one is a boy who Ian used to hang with. The guy’s a loser on the fast track to prison. He’s upset when Ian leaves his orbit and begins to engage in more positive activities that may take him in a more positive direction. Ian’s mother is another; a bitter and stupid woman, she attacks Jack with malicious gossip that will affect the lives of everyone.
Stephanie is an adorable middle-age woman. Exactly when she transitioned isn’t clear, but she does have an adult daughter who adores her. She is a driver on the Eurostar and maintains homes in France and England. Most of the picture takes place in Dover with a short but important part set in her home outside of Paris. She has had difficulty finding love because she is transgender. With past prospects, she has been very up-front about her gender status. Her daughter Cecile (Chloe Sirene) has pushed her to do so, but with Jack she decides to hold back until the relationship develops. The audience knows she has a secret, but the exact nature of it isn’t immediately revealed.
It’s a sweet story and I enjoyed it. Florrie is adorable and a major part of Jack’s salvation from loneliness. The love between Stephanie and Jack develops slowly and the interactions between two very gifted actors is a joy to watch
All stories have weaknesses and Ruby Blue is no exception. Some may have a problem with the fact that Stephanie is not portrayed by a transgender actor. It’s also very white with no people of colour at all in the cast. The transition in Jack’s relationship with his son was problematic, also.
The movie is about relationships and love, both fraternal and romantic between the characters. It’s a love story and I would see it again. Take a look some night.
Available on Cinequest.org – Ruby Blue $1.00