Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A Single Man

It was my birthday the other week. And I turned ... well you can probably guess, can't you?


Yes you guessed right!!

Ha ha ha ...

If only.

Add 33 to that number i.e. 32, then subtract 40, multiply by 2, add 1, and you'll probably get the right age ... if you can be bothered to do all of that ...

Anyways, to celebrate my b'day I went uptown for a very nice meal to a tried and tested place, followed by drinks and dancing at Escape. Prior to all of that was a visit to the cinema, which made the day even more divinely indulgent, helped by the fact that the movie I saw was very good indeed. And the movie was ...

... A Single Man. Based on the novel by gay author Christopher Isherwood, it's set in early 1960s Los Angeles and tells the story of George Falconer (played by Colin Firth) a middle-aged English university professor who, since the death of his longtime male partner Jim, in a car accident, has struggled to find meaning in his life and as a result is now seriously contemplating suicide. The film depicts events in a single day of George's life but also provides a lot of back story through a series of flashbacks that have a bearing on the here and now.

I loved it, for a number of reasons:

1) Colin Firth's brilliant portrayal of George. Prior to "A Single Man" I wasn't exactly his greatest fan. Regardless of all that hoo-ha about him as Darcy getting his shirt off in "Pride and Prejudice", I'd never been into him and also found him utterly annoying as the "modern" Darcy in the Bridget Jones movies - wet, boring, humourless, repressed and asexual - pretty much encompassing all those British stereotypes that non-UK people have of us, except in this case the character wasn't just a bunch of stereotypes, he really was like this. Although perhaps I am slightly forgetting the fact that Darcy is fictional, not real and probably nothing like Colin Firth the actor ... I dunno though, quite how the delightfully ditzy Bridget fancied such a dull as ditch water bloke was beyond me ...

Anyhow, Firth defied expectations for me in "A Single Man. He's a revelation - and in the film his quintessential Englishness and restrained mannerisms and behaviour are actually a virtue. The scene in which he receives a phone call from the brother of his partner, to tell him that Jim has been killed, is brilliantly acted - George keeping it together vocally as he talks to the brother, but his face telling a very different story as the grim reality sinks in. We then see his true reaction when, breaking down, he dashes next door in the pouring rain (slightly obvious symbolism) to see his best mate Charley for a (literal) shoulder to cry on (Charley played by the estimable Julianne Moore, more (excuse the pun) on her in a moment...) The meticulous way in which he lays out all of his belongings on his bed, including legal documents and letters to friends, as he plans his suicide, smacks of Englishness too, but rings true, so it's heartening to see George's attitude change near the end - and then by contrast hugely saddening when things then take an unexpected turn. I won't say any more for people who haven't yet seen it.

2) Julianne Moore as the Upper Class socialite Charley, George's best friend from the UK who also happens to be his next door neighbour. Moore is one of my most favourite actresses - I loved her in Safe and Far From Heaven, and she excels here too, playing an entertaining but not entirely sympathetic character - an alcoholic, self-indulgent and self-obsessed one to be precise (not a million miles away from Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous ...) The dinner scene with her and George is a great piece of drama, with the pair getting progressively drunker and ending up hurling insults at one another, and Charley attempting to kiss George at the end of the night (still hoping and believing, after all these years, that she can "turn" him). Regardless of the selfishness of her character, she looked and sounded, erm, absolutely fabulous, with her glamorous 60s style and I loved her pink cigarettes, not to mention chic apartment with orange trees in the lobby. Mmm, think I wanna emigrate to California ... A pity the character isn't actually in the movie for very long.

3) The other male characters, all of whom were pretty hot, but also convincingly played. George's dead lover Jim was a handsome fella without being conventionally good-looking and the flashback scenes where we see the two lovers together - on the couch at home reading, or lying on the beach, are convincingly played, with that sense of easy familiarity and "couple banter" that people who've together in relationships for a long time maintain with one another. We also witness George and Jim's first meeting in bar, when Jim is a sailor on visit to the town and the undercurrent of flirtatiousness between them both is well observed - this was after all the 1960s and gay men couldn't be so blatant.

Nicholas Hoult is also very good as Kenny Potter, one of George's students who after one of his lectures, starts a conversation with him, becomes fixated on him as a kindred spirit and later on turns out to be his saviour. There's further clever observation in the way the film depicts the undercurrent of attraction between Kenny and George, always there and strongly hinted at (when the pair get drunk and go skinny dipping or later on when a soaking wet Kenny self consciously strips in front of George and stands there staring at him) without being properly verbalised or fully consummated (again perhaps a product of the sexually ambiguous times when it was a lot harder to be upfront about one's real inclinations and desires).

And there's also the male hustler played by Jon Kortajarena Redruello (bloody gorgeous!!) who George runs into, gets propositioned by and turns down - God knows why - old George seems to get more offers from men in one day than most would in a lifetime!

4) The attitudes towards homosexuality. As I mentioned there's an interesting level of ambiguousness in some of George's relationships with the men he meets - is something going on or not? - which is a hallmark of the time. But the prejudice and ostracism that gay men received back then is also dealt with, and whilst deplorable, I found the scenes which showed this to be the most truthful and telling of all. When George speaks to Jim's brother on the phone and is told that he hasn't been invited to the funeral as he is "not immediate family", you could almost hear the hiss of disapproval from the audience - the refusal to recognise George and Jim's relationship as a "proper one" grates massively but is (regrettably) indicative of people's attitudes at the time (and to be honest, still is in some backward quarters). This is reinforced even more in the dinner scene where a drunken Charley blurts out that she and George could have had something "real" and that she never thought that what he had with Jim was "real love". F**k off!!! Insulting and deeply ignorant, but nevertheless, the kind of views that I myself have heard people spout from time to time.

5) The look and cinematography of the film. American fashion designer Tom Ford makes his directing debut here and his design and style roots come through clearly in the movie - it's sumptuously shot and made - the 60s style being prevalent throughout (loved the profileration of ladies' beehives!) George's glass house is also pretty funky and trendy (though a bit of a nightmare for those craving privacy?!) and there's a funny scene where he sits on the toilet spying on his neighbours through the window, before one of them clocks him watching.

All in all, one of the best gay movies I've seen in a long time and proof that Colin Firth really can cut the mustard.
4 out of 5.


  1. Both Karen and I want to see this - Karen because she's read the book and some excellent reviews and me, rather shallowly, because I think Julianne Moore looks hot.

  2. P.S. Many happy returns (belatedly)!

  3. Nothing shallow about that atall really, Julianne M does play it a bit older than her usual roles though (perhaps because she IS older ... )

    Thanks for the birthday good wishes!