From the very outset in Neil Armfield’s moving production Holding the Man, which is based on a true story, we are made aware that this picture may come devoid of a happy ending. Adding a foreboding element to proceedings, all this information does is enrich our experience, adding a profundity to match the sheer romanticism on show, in this archetypal drama of two young lovers falling in love in the face of adversity.
The aforementioned adversity derives from their sexual orientation, for Timothy (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott) first meet in school, and while the former is an over-elaborate, confident drama student, the introverted latter is known primarily for his contributions to the school football team. After sounding each other out and determining they are both the same way inclined, they embark on an intense relationship, which we follow, across the next two decades. Having to put up with homophobic abuse and vitriol along the way, any such ignorance seeks only in making them stronger, though they are put to the test when a new adversary is upon them: aids.
Armfield balances comedy with poignancy in a remarkable fashion within this production, managing to find a certain lightness deriving from the most callous and tragic of circumstances. There is a very distinctive, palpable tonal shift however, as the film sets itself up as a mere romantic piece, only to dramatically become more bleak in its themes and moving in its execution. Thankfully, however, we’re already on board by this point, which is imperative as it ensures we abide by the narrative at hand, and adhere to the emotional aspects – helped along, consistently, by having such a flawed protagonist in Timothy. He’s a well-rounded, nuanced creation that is something of a victim, but never depicted in a heroic, sycophantic way. Corr turns in a wonderful, absorbing display as the protagonist, with an engaging charm and infectious enthusiasm, and yet he remains so subtle with it – a commendation extended to that of his counterpart Stott, too.
With a beautiful soundtrack (particularly Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Forever and a Year’) and a tremendous chemistry between the leading stars, Holding the Man is a truly accomplished film that is exceedingly easy to invest in. You may have to suspend your disbelief however, for the actors do appear to be somewhat too old to play students, but it’s a task made all the more achievable when dealing with such fine, emotive performances.