Featured at the 1979 Cannes and Los Angeles Film Festivals, Nighthawks is a British production about a young London teacher whose life is divided between the schoolroom where he teaches geography and the gay bars and discos where he meets other homosexuals. As Derek Malcolm has stated, “the film attempts to illuminate not so much gay life as a certain stratum of it. The protagonist, beautifully played by Ken Robertson... has desultory affairs with a series of pick-ups and generally leads the kind of hide-and-seek life more liberated homosexuals would regard as pathetically half in and half out of the closet. He, like almost everybody else in the film, is far from the camp or comic stereotype generally seen on the screen. And it is this total ordinariness - there's an excellent portrait too of the kindly but dim female teacher who befriends him from Rachel Nicholas James - that makes it so credible. The trick of fashioning an unboring movie from fundamentally rather dull people is not an easy one, and the film's linear approach, repetitiveness and steady pacing are clearly a problem for some. Yet even this works for, rather than against, Nighthawks for me. To reveal limitations in people often requires a somewhat limited approach. Certainly it actively increases the considerable shock value of the film's most extraordinary scene which even those who oppose it concede is riveting. This has the teacher suddenly confronted by a classroom of baying children after one of them has shouted: ‘Sir, is it true you're bent?' His honest reply supplies a sequence I should not forget in a hurry and elevates the film into a memorable experience.”
According to co-director Ron Peck:
“The original impetus for producing Nighthawks came from a dissatisfaction with - and anger about - films representing homosexuality. It seemed that most films took one of three basic approaches: homosexuality as angst, with tortured, guilt-ridden protagonists; homosexuality as comic relief, leaving the central protagonists secure in their normality; homosexuality as exotica, a colourful background to enliven an episode of a story and therefore again marginal. Even films that sought to present ‘alternative' pictures of homosexuality generally set their gay characters in rather removed professional and ‘understanding' environments on the the one hand, or set them in a dream-like limbo far away from the familiar day-to-day contacts of most people working.
“The film shows only part of the gay scene, and only some aspects of its central protagonist's life. It does not ‘cover everything,' as many people may wish it did, but such a hope or expectation is only a reflection of the dire situation where there are so few films with, or about gay characters....”