Billy Subtext


Having just watched (and enjoyed immensely)this wonderful film I am left with a nagging idea about a subtext concerning Billy, Ezra's best friend. I was wondering what others thought. Here is what I was seeing and why:

Arthur WAS Billies son. This is confirmed for me by the two times that Ezra comments on how Arthur could be Billy. The first time after their arm wrestle when Ezra explains to Lucy that he looked up and Arthur could have been "him" (even his grip was the same)and, more obviously, at the end. Also near the beginning of the film when the wedding party continues at the Fitton house, Ezra comments on Billy having a better singing voice than him and Lucy becomes annoyed (which begs the question "why is she so defensive"? Especially when we later realise that she had a lot of affection for him. She says that nobody cares about Billy because nobody knows him. Ezra explains that he cares and also that Lucy knew him. It is her expression following this comment from Ezra that reveals the whole history of their relationship for me and suggests very strongly that she also loved him (confirmed also about her very fond reminicences decorating the bedroom) - as well as Ezra (which leads to the gay subtext which follows).

For me there is one scene that overwhelmingly convinces me of the unacknowledged homo-erotic subtext underlying Ezra's affection for Billy. After the Pipers have left, Lucy is cleaning the beer glasses whilst Ezra reminisces about Billy outside the kitchen window. He tells a story about the sea water and the shiny brown boots that both he and Billy purchased before the honeymoon. Ezra says:

"our boots were covered with little drops of water all - all glistening away, do you know what Billy said? "You can't beat nature for beauty Ezra" he said. I've never forgot it - that were the big moment of my honeymoon".

Apart from thinking of that as a reference to tanned (masculine) skin glistening with sweat, the fact that this was the highlight of his honeymoon speaks volumes.

Beyond that Lucy also seems to make a connection when prior to that she talks about Billy being on their honeymoon as also being rather "queer".

Anyway, these are my observations about the Billy subtext leading me to the conclusions that both Ezra and Lucy loved Billy - Lucy requited with Arthur being the proof and Ezra unrequited and closeted.

What do people think?

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In 1996 I wrote about this subtext in my book 'Brief Encounters', a survey of lesbian and gay images in early British cinema (published by Cassell). You can order a copy from your local library or buy a second-hand copy from www.abebooks.com and, in various articles, I have also praised John Mills's under-rated portrayal of Ezra Fitton. It is a master class of screen acting, but Mills has never been given credit for this. For too long he has been taken for granted. He was a superb film actor.

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I really think that Ezra had gay feelings for Billy. He's always pumping up his masculinity to try and hide it from himself. I think he has a love/hate relationship with his son (such as the arm wrestling scene) because Arthur reminds him of Billy so much. Ezra is deeply wounded by Billy's disappearance and takes it out on the people closest to him.

I think that Lucy did sleep with Billy which resulted in Arthur. The incident with Lucy may have forced Billy to flee. Ezra and his whole family are ruined by this and the code of society that 'such things' cannot be talked about.

Ezra's speech about him and Billy on the honneymoon is very revelatory. The brown leather and spits/foam of the sea are symbols of skin and sperm. The fact that he openly talks like this to his wife, and calls it the highlight of his honeymoon shows that Ezra & Lucy have an understanding.

Hayley Mills's parents also have an interesting marriage, with a lot of emotions rumbling under the surface. The incident in which the father accuses the mother of cutting the girl's hair due to her own jealousy is very powerful. I would have liked to see this explored further.

It's a fantastic film though, and superbly acted. Although it's not a great advert for marriage is it?

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Oh, I think you're well into the realms of fantasy on this one.

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You have expressed some revealing insights into this extraordinary film...and I agree with all of them, but to answer your question, perhaps it was never intended to be a "great advert for marriage."

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[deleted]

Nah. Mates are very close in the English communities. Mates are flor life. Has nothing to do with sexuality. It is a best friend to tell things to, to share with, to be with, and on ones own shilling. Wives are something else but they are not mates.

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That might be an interpretation of male female relationships from the time that can apply to this film. The only thing is your using the present tense for this idea, and I don't know about you but I wouldn't marry someone I wasn't also friends with, and I think a lot of people feel this way now.

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You've got to be joking! This was a case of two's company, three's a crowd, and his mate clearly left after an episode with Ezra's wife.

To suggest that he was gay is just rediculous.

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@denismachan04 Unless, of course, you are gay...as I am...and I picked up on the 'gay subtext' the first time I saw it (& confirmed by repeated viewings). The Family Way is brilliant because it is open to interpretation. You see what you see from your reality. I see what I see from my reality. And I had NO idea that its creator, Bill Naughton, was gay in real life until I read this thread. It just gets more fascinating!

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[deleted]

Who said Bill Naughton was gay!?

I'm a great fan and have met his widow! His Wikepedia entry is poor, but see http://www.boltonmuseums.org.uk/bolton-archives/bill-naughton/ for more

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No doubt, Ezra was gay. Billy tapped Lucy, too. Arthur could have been gay. He certainly didn't like being laughed at by Jenny 'like all the others had done'.

And there is also no doubt that Jenny's dad had a thing for her. Possibly had acted upon those feelings when she was younger, too. When her mom found out, she cut Jenny's hair to make her less attractive.

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Whoa there! Sure Billy & Lucy produced Arthur. But you don't seem to know about human emotions. Arthur puts Jenny into the category of others-his Dad, his boss-who rag on him for not being exactly like them. But it's not because he is gay. As one of the characters says, "There's no problem on that score." And believe it or not there are dads that love their daughters more than anything else in life and vice versa without there being any sexual undertones present: "Oh so love's under suspicion nowadays," says the dad to his wife who is jealous of the close relationship he shares with the daughter. She had her haircut out of spite, like a wicked stepmother in a kid's story, not out of any form of protection for the daughter. As for Ezra being gay, the author milks this close relationship for laughs, perhaps a bit too often, I don't buy it. Like Keith Richards says in his book, most people don't understand the relationship of mates in England. I believe that applies here. And IF they were, they both had no problem producing children!

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It seems to be a case of wishful thinking on the part of gay people to read into a situation to fit their viewpoint. Take the following comment from the original poster:

"For me there is one scene that overwhelmingly convinces me of the unacknowledged homo-erotic subtext underlying Ezra's affection for Billy. After the Pipers have left, Lucy is cleaning the beer glasses whilst Ezra reminisces about Billy outside the kitchen window. He tells a story about the sea water and the shiny brown boots that both he and Billy purchased before the honeymoon. Ezra says:

"our boots were covered with little drops of water all - all glistening away, do you know what Billy said? "You can't beat nature for beauty Ezra" he said. I've never forgot it - that were the big moment of my honeymoon".

Apart from thinking of that as a reference to tanned (masculine) skin glistening with sweat, the fact that this was the highlight of his honeymoon speaks volumes".


Talk about trying to make something out of nothing! People just don't seem to understand the concept of best friends, especially in the era when Ezra and Billy would have grown up together, when life was harder and tougher than any teenager of today could imagine. Friendships forged through life's adversities are bound to be lasting. It is also set in Northern England, where industry (though it certainly wasn't restricted to the North by any means) and mining meant that friendships were also forged through that medium, and the fact that they were close-knit communities. Ezra and Billy did not have an homosexual relationship, but were close friends from early childhood to adulthood. Billy left because of the relationship he had with Ezra's wife, resulting in Arthur. Billy obviously couldn't live with the guilt and the pain his betrayal would have caused his friend Ezra, so he left. Ezra finally realises this in the end, and may have thought about it in the preceding years, despite his apparent naivety.

For Pete's sake, stop trying to make stories fit an agenda. It may give you comfort to see a gay subtext in every situation but believe me, you really are living in the realms of fantasy in regard to this film.

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i think it is quite clear that Billy is Arthur's father. i am more doubtful about whether we are meant to think of ezra as having sexual feelings for Billy, rather than just admiring him as a cleverer friend. it is a possibility, but i don't know if it is what the makers of this film were thinking.

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