Film Review: Holding the Man

UK Cinema Release: June 3rd 2016
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Kerry Fox, Camilla Ah Kin, Sarah Snook, Guy Pearce and Anthony LaPaglia.

Holding the Man is a film adaptation of the 1995 award winning and best selling memoir by Australian actor, writer and activist Timothy Conigrave.

The film charts the relationship between Tim and the love of his life John Caleo from their teenage romance at and all-boys Jesuit Catholic school in Melbourne, through to their rocky years of University and activism and finally to John’s death from complications relating to HIV.

It’s an epic tale which flips back and forth between important episodes in their lives. The initial cautious and sincere blossoming of their teenage romance is at once terrifying and heartwarming. It seems like an amazing stroke of luck that the boy he has a crush on is also gay and fancies him right back. In fact the whole early romance seems to be blessed with support or at least very little bother from their peers. Conigrave’s parents are grudginlgy accepting, although his mother trots out those horrid words of warning so many people coming out over the years have had to hear ‘it’s a lonely life.’ Caleo’s parents however are vehemently opposed to the coupling and as a result the boys run off together.

Their college years are full of protest and sexual discovery which sees a sort of reversal in their relationship. While in school Caleo was the captain of the football team and Conigrave was the geeky drama student, in college Conigreve is the one who comes into his own. The eagerness for sexual discovery on Conigrave’s part drives the first splinter of doubt between the two. While they have a short term separation during his drama school years they come back together only to be simultaneously diagnosed as HIV positive.

This is an epic and episodic film and at times it’s not an easy watch but it’s rendered with great passion, skill and feeling that it wins you over in every episode. There’s no weak link in the creative. The actors are charming, soulful and reserved when necessary. The script and direction work together with these loving performances to create a film that has unity and great depth of feeling. It’s a tearjerker of a movie at times but it also has moments of soaring, life affirming beauty.


© John Fitzpatrick 2016
Holding The Man 1

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