Holding the Man (2015)

Holding the Man

It is ten years since the release of Brokeback Mountain (2005), now widely acknowledged as a landmark film for the LGBT movement’s long struggle to be represented on the big screen. It was one of many cinematic high-points on the wave of such films that started twenty years earlier. The film industry has changed since then; the genre of ‘queer cinema’ is now almost mainstreamed because the days of depicting all human relationships as heterosexual are gone.  There are many more battles to be won, but the film pioneers have done the hard yards. This history is important because any current film that goes over old ground without offering something new risks being outdated upon release.

Respect for queer cinema does not necessarily lead to respect for all films produced under its rubric. Despite direction by the acclaimed Neil Armfield, Holding the Man (2015) is a disappointing film. Based on the 1995 memoir by revered gay rights activist Timothy Conigrave, the film version struggles to avoid soapy melodrama and corny humour. It’s a low budget production about the illicit love that started between two schoolboys in the 1970s and continued for 15 years until the AIDS epidemic took its toll. Ryan Corr plays Tim and Craig Stott plays John, actors who in real life are around 30 years of age. Despite their talent, they are glaringly unconvincing as teenagers.  The inevitable lack of acting authenticity through poor casting is insurmountable and it undermines the film. While sex scenes play an important expressive role in the portrayal of all relationships regardless of sexuality, beyond a certain point they become gratuitously exhibitionist.

The few genuinely sensitive moments in this film cannot overcome a disjointed narrative arc, unconvincing acting, repetitive sex scenes and an awkward mix of humour and pathos. The desire to pay homage to Conigrave’s book may have constrained the film, but good adaptations are not straitjacketed by the source text. They go beyond it to show visually what was imagined by the author, contemporising it for today’s far more open-minded audiences. I really wanted this film to work, but for me it just didn’t.

Director: Neil Armfield                                                              2 half stars copy

Stars: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott