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Milk, gay pioneer who rose to the top

PUBLISHED: 14:22 21 January 2009 | UPDATED: 17:11 16 August 2010

ENCOUNTER: James Franco and Sean Penn.

ENCOUNTER: James Franco and Sean Penn.

© 2008 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.

THE name Harvey Milk is unlikely to mean a great deal to those of us on this side of the Atlantic but for those involved in the gay subculture of 1970s San Francisco he is a hero, a martyr and a pioneer. Milk, played here by Sean Penn, became the first o

THE name Harvey Milk is unlikely to mean a great deal to those of us on this side of the Atlantic but for those involved in the gay subculture of 1970s San Francisco he is a hero, a martyr and a pioneer.

Milk, played here by Sean Penn, became the first openly gay elected official in the United States when he was appointed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 but was shot dead just 10 months later. The story follows Milk from the time he moved from his native New York to San Francisco to set up a camera shop on Castro Street in 1972 and charts his subsequent involvement in politics and struggle to overturn Proposition 6 - a referendum designed to permit school boards to fire gay teachers.

Director Gus Van Sant shows Milk as a charismatic civil rights campaigner who is locked in a David-and-Goliath battle against an unfair discriminatory system but the film never comes across as preachy or overtly political. Penn is impressive as is Josh Brolin as Milk's anguished political opponent Dan White.

Harvey Milk may not exactly be a household name but his story is one of courage in the face of adversity and still resonates strongly 30 years after his untimely death.

Milk opens in cinemas tomorrow.

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