Based upon the successful memoir and stage play of the same name, this is a true story of a 15-year love affair between two people who met at school.
It is Australia in the ‘70s and Tim Conigrave, a budding actor at an all-boys Catholic school, has fallen big time for the captain of the football team, John Caleo. Facing discrimination and antipathy, temptation and jealousy, separation and illness, the pair first forge a close relationship and then endure. Tim and John face the opprobrium of their school and their parents, let alone the wider community. But those battles are nothing compared to what they have to face up to because, consider for a moment, that this is when HIV/AIDS first reared its ugly head.
Director Neil Armfield (Candy) read Tim Conigrave’s memoir soon after it was published in 1995. Nick Enright helped Conigrave finish it and Armfield had just made a TV film of Enright’s Coral Island, so he tried to get the screen rights to Conigrave’s book, but they weren’t available. Seventeen years later, Armfield was approach directly to take charge and that is how the film came to be made. Writer Tommy Murphy first adapted Conigrave’s book to the stage in 2006 and then saw the play travel the world. Conigrave’s work won the UN Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction and was counted among the “100 Favourite Australian Books” by the Australia Society of Authors. It has been reprinted 15 times in Australia alone and been published in the US, the UK and Europe.
Murphy calls it a love story that “speaks across generations, cultures and sexuality.” He says when he now watches the film he’s “amazed by the tragedy, the drama and the beauty” of the story.
There have been several noteworthy movies with gay themes that I have seen over the years, several of them Oscar winners – the likes of Brokeback Mountain and A Single Man, Milk and The Crying Game, Boys Don’t Cry and Blue is the Warmest Colour, Philadelphia and Dallas Buyers Club. While Holding the Man isn’t in that league, it still tells a powerful and compelling story of love and death, trauma and discrimination. Importantly, it has warmth and humour, for in between the thistles there is much light in the relationship between Conigrave and Caleo. It is unashamedly confronting for a straight man to see naked males rolling around in bed together and for that reason many will choose not to see Holding the Man. That though is a pity because love is love is love regardless of one’s sexual preference and the HIV/AIDS epidemic is all too real.
Ryan Corr, who plays Tim Conigrave in the film, readily brings light and shade to the role. For the most part, he is an extremely positive character who believes in breaking down or barging through obstacles. Craig Stott is the calming influence, the rational thinker, as John Caleo, a man educated and emboldened by Conigrave. Naturally, there is a decided mood swing as the movie moves into its second act, when the harsh realities of life start to intervene on what should be a happy ride into the sunset. No doubt some will be deeply moved by what they see.
Also featuring Kerry Fox, Sarah Snook, Anthony Lapaglia and Guy Pearce, Holding the Man, rated MA, scores a 7 out of 10.
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Ryan Corr, Sarah Snook, Guy Pearce and Anthony LaPaglia
Release Date: 27 August 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television