Monday 14 August 2017

On TV (in NZ) - David Hare reviews the Mini-series MAN IN AN ORANGE SHIRT (Michael Samuels, UK, 2017)

Back over the last forty years or so a number of directors, some straight and tuned in like Stephen Frears, and others mostly gay, have turned the commercial end of queer cinema into a great place to look for new talent, formal invention, completely re-thought twists on primal narrative tropes, and levels of engagement that can cross generations, sexes and audiences.

Some fine examples are Andrew Haigh's Weekend (2011), which beats Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945) at its own game and the continuing career of Andre Téchiné whose last films have turned a queer eye to non-gay character pieces to estimable effect, perhaps my fave, because he's a commercial underdog. Then there is Sebastien Lifschitz whose Presque Rien (Come Undone, 2000) does the classic coming of age love story in a totally honest and anti-bucolic way, and his masterpiece family nightmare film with a trans heroine, the incomparable Wild Side (2004). Jacques Nolot, Téchiné 's old screenwriter with two features La Chatte à Deux Têtes (Porn Theatre/The Two Headed Pussy, 2002) and Avant que j'oublie (Before I Forget, 2007.) not to mention gay directors with broad and now historical arthouse careers like Almodovar, Derek Jarman and the now two transgender sisters the Wachowskis.

Last night on FTA Teev in New Zealand the Beeb began a series of programs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first laws to partially decriminalize homosexuality in the UK in 1967.

Their opening salvo sadly, is the 120minute feature length Man in an Orange Shirt. Director Michael Samuels and writer Patrick Gale appear to have decided the millennial take on even such historical and costume material is to grab Mills and Boon by the throat and spew it all back in gay wrapping paper, throwing all intelligence, taste, sensibility or artistry to the wind. They slap together two hours of pretty boy languishing, swooning and short breathed angst, as the actors keep bursting into tears at the slightest opportunity, perhaps simply to cue the audience to grab yet another box of Kleenex for its own sob-fest, while topping and tailing the whole wretched production with an embarrassingly glib token referential guester from the great Vanessa Redgrave, as the contemporary grannie, and post WW2 bride of the first inter-generational gay character in the story. This insult to a fine actress is even more galling after the part Frears puts her to as the smartarse agent for Joe Orton in Prick up your Ears (1987), a story about a gay "'marriage" that might scare the pants off the kids these days.

The same story has been told in film after film after film including Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948) and Brief Encounter itself, no less. Some of the greatest films in cinema are love stories rent asunder. But not this turgid keylit piece of SandM (Standing and Modelling) in which fashion triumphs over even the shallow emotions on display. 

Julian Morris, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Man in an Orange Shirt
Indeed it's the wartime boys' clothes after demobbing that really save the day, especially considering the factually devastated austerity dominated post war Brit clothing industry whose rationing etc doesnt stop the boys from wearing the year's most fabulous (and presumably expensive) cable knits, loose sports slacks that would fit Astaire, and the titlular Orange shirt, itself a Paris catwalk item. Wardrobe of course matches the hero's blue eyes and black hair to perfection and reinforces the umpteenth cliché to pile up on another cliché in this steaming pile of twaddle, gays all have fabulous taste. It's like the darkies all have rhythm and just as offensive and stupid, as is the all gays are saints trope, even the suspiciously nancy-boy Lucien who safe havens the painter BF Tommy upstairs with lashings of motherly care and clucking good advice, just when they need it. No sign of the menacing working class white trash faggots who blackmail Peter McEnery and Dirk Bogarde in the genuinely interesting and still relevant Victim directed by a full throttle social realist crusading Basil Dearden way, way back in the prehistory of 1960.

This is what we've come to folks, slop Mills & Boon undies busters with the emotional density of a wafer and weddings and tat and fabulousness in designer Dockside loft apartments.

Let Bette have the last word: 'I detest cheap sentiment".

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