Festival gem: Even Solomon

Andrew Taylor’s 1979 Play for Today offers a sensitive, accurate representation of a young trans woman coming out.

Alex Davidson
Updated:

The BBC’s Play for Today strand (1970-84) broadcast some of the most acclaimed and beloved of all TV dramas, including Bar Mitzvah Boy (1977), Scum (1979), Brimstone and Treacle (1982) and Abigail’s Party (1977), the last of which now boasts a devoted gay following.

Occasionally Play for Today dabbled in queerness – these dramas were well-acted and well-written, but didn’t waste time with progressiveness. The gay men in Coming Out (1979) form a nest of spiteful poofs intent on destroying one another. Jane Lapotaire’s character in The Other Woman (1976) is a man-hating dyke who ‘becomes’ a lesbian following a childhood rape and ends up miserable and alone, and serve her right too.

But Even Solomon is rather different…

What’s it about?

Stephen (Paul Henley) works in a bank. A virgin, he shows no interest in sex, and is cruelly scorned by an aggressive female neighbour when he rebuffs her advances. He lives with his mother, an overbearing woman who mocks him for being wet. But Stephen has a secret – he likes to wear women’s clothing. When his horrified mother finds out, she takes him to meet a fellow cross-dresser to ‘solve’ the problem. But the meeting ends unexpectedly, when the other man realises that Stephen is not transvestite, but transsexual.

Who made it?

It was written by Andrew Taylor, a screenwriter with no further television credits on his CV, save 1977’s The Sniffler and the Pug, written for BBC series Centre Play. It was an early credit for director Roger Bamford, who went on to direct several episodes of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983-2004), Minder (1979-2009) and A Touch of Frost (1992-). Neither man returned to the subject of trans people in their work.

What’s special about it?

Before it was made, transgender characters were very rarely shown on screen. Exceptions include Doris Wishman exploitation flick Let Me Die a Woman (1978) and the far more sensitive (and Oscar-nominated) portrayal by Chris Sarandon in Dog Day Afternoon (1975). On British television it was nearly non-existent. An exception was A Change of Sex (1979), a documentary series broadcast the same year as Even Solomon, following a male-female transition.

The monsters in Even Solomon aren’t the transsexual nor the transvestite, but Stephen’s intolerant colleagues, his ignorant doctor and his hysterical mother (Sylvia Kay is excellent). Stephen is even given a happy ending of sorts, as he embarks hopefully on the journey to becoming Susan. Henley gives a sensitive and sympathetic performance, and it’s hard not to be moved as he transforms from bullied victim to empowered self-realisation.

Not to belabour the point, but you just don’t get this type of positive representation anywhere in 1970s drama.

What our programmer says

Jason Barker:

Although some of the medical information is simply not true, this is an accurate and heartfelt depiction of the challenges faced by a trans woman in the late 70s and a fascinating glimpse at the gender politics of the day. It’s interesting, 34 years on, to see what has changed – fashion and birth certificates – and what, unfortunately, is sometimes still with us – doctors who don’t listen and clueless bosses.

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