Netflix UK film review: Holding the Man
Ivan Radford | On 03, Jun 2016Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Ryan Corr, Craig Scott, Guy Pearce
Watch Holding the Man online in the UK: Netflix UK / We Are Colony / BFI Player / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
‘Gay cinema’ can be a queer term, if you’ll pardon the pun. It risks putting stories about a certain group of society into a box, as if it can only appeal to certain members in the audience – the same kind of attitude that has held back ‘black cinema’ (see Beyond the Lights) and female superheroes over the years. It’s a treat, then, to see that Holding the Man is getting a VOD release on the same day as its cinema release – not just because it means anyone can see it, but because the film is a wonderful reminder that ‘LGBT cinema’ can appeal to a mainstream audience.
The film is based on a memoir by Timothy Conigrave and tells the true story of his relationship with one John Caleo. The two couldn’t be less alike: Tim is an actor, rehearsing for their Catholic school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. While he plays Paris, John plays football. But the pair form a bond nonetheless, passing notes in class and swapping phone calls via their parents at home.
What follows is a 15-year relationship that Neil Armfield’s film chronicles in epic, intimate detail. Tommy Murphy’s script, which follows a previous adaptation of the memoir for the stage, condenses their long-term bond into two hours of hugely moving cinema – and Armfield directs it with the kind of style and unabashed sentiment that will sweep even the most hardened of hearts along. The years fly past in giant letters, with a catchy soundtrack of period pop hits charting the passage of time. But there’s depth to these broad strokes: the music fires up when our couple connect for the first time, or run away from a stern parent, capturing the rush of romance with a toe-tapping immediacy.
At the heart of it are a stellar pair of performances. Ryan Corr is heartbreakingly good as Tim, moving from a nervous and timid teen to a bold and confident adult, while Craig Scott’s John is winningly dependable throughout. Together, their chemistry is off the charts, whether it’s in the couple’s initial moments of attraction or bickering about the urge to try out new sexual partners (. They grow old alongside each other beautifully, the waxing and waning bond between them (and other everyday battles) made even more believable by a strong supporting ensemble, including Guy Pearce as Tim’s dad. While social pressures and Catholic attitudes are subtly scrutinised, though, the most devastating obstacle of all is the spectre of AIDS looming in the background – and the thought that, if infected, one of them could unwittingly kill the one they love.
Passion, loss, loyalty and family. These are the kind of over-arching themes and hurdles that any couple can relate to. “You’re more than your sexuality,” Tim’s drama teacher (a scene-stealing David Woods) tells him during one entertaining rehearsal. Holding the Man understands that all too well. The result isn’t just mainstream; it’s universal. And it deserves to be a crowd-pleaser.
Holding the Man is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription – and to buy and rent from We Are Colony with exclusive behind-the-scenes extras.