REWIND the clock just 30 years and it’s astounding to think how intolerant supposedly forward-thinking western societies were.

Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement had made their mark but many people still faced prejudice as part of their day-to-day lives.

In a year that is already rife with politically charged films like Frost/Nixon, Valkyrie and Che, celebrated director Gus Van Sant brings us the life – and death – of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk.

Transporting you to 1978, the film chronicles the fight against a statewide initiative to ban homosexuals, and their supporters, from working in public schools.

Cutting real footage from the time with authentic looking film scenes, it looks brilliant.

You see religious bigots that place the gay community in the same bracket as criminals – it’s laughable now but that’s what some people really thought.

Sean Penn is utterly convincing as Harvey Milk.

As camp as he is driven, you see his journey over almost 10 years, unstoppable in his quest to get elected and shake the system.

The film makes you want to protest against everything that’s wrong in society.

Ultimately, Milk is about sacrifice. Harvey loses everything – his partner, eventually his life, but in doing so, he is able to finally make a change.

8/10 An important piece of cinema