Amidst writing his memoirs in 1994, I don’t think actor, writer and activist Timothy Conigrave could have expected the impact his Australian love story would have had on millions. Published the following year and receiving acclaim, his story was quickly developed into an extremely successful stage play by Tommy Murphy in 2006. Holding firm as one of Australia’s staple love stories, a Romeo and Juliet for the LGBT community, Murphy adapted Conigrave’s poignant story to the screen, bringing this love to the masses.
The year is 1976 and Timothy Conigrave is in high school. His focus is on another, however. John Caleo, the captain of the school’s football team’s focus hits back, and the two are entwined. What forms is a friendship and a bond that spans a near-twenty year relationship, fighting against others’ opinions and defeating multiple odds.
The film, hailed alongside its memoir and accompanied stage play as an Australian classic, hits hard. Both characters fumble and trip over their infatuation of each other and its instantly likeable, like taking a trip down memory lane when your eye caught another for the first time. And although the film features a homosexual couple the film never strives to elect a narrow-minded approach, unlike the people both Conigrave and Caleo had to deal with throughout their entire time together. It’s this lifelike, consuming infatuation that obliterates the boundaries of paper and screen and ultimately feels so enormously personal, like watching through a window at two love-stricken teenagers growing, through enormous obstacles, into men.
Conigrave’s memoir is written with enormous heart, though what grounds both himself and partner Caleo is the undoubtable fact that they are, for all of their sins, human. The problems that arise are their own doing; the trials they encounter and, at times, are entirely unencumbered under proves first and foremost that this story, though brimming with warmth, is real. The characters aren’t always agreeable and sometimes almost dislikable, but it works. This wouldn’t be possible, however, without the stellar performances of Ryan Corr and Craig Stott, a pairing that’s an impeccable fuse of partnership and a more than ideal job at bringing these characters to life.
Holding the Man is handled with care. Director Neil Armfield understands the base whilst Murphy’s adapted screenplay merely mirrors Conigrave’s heartfelt memoir. The love shared will be admired widely and thrive LGBT cinema. Though the narrative is derivative and barely breaks the mould of your average romance, this is purely character-based, dealing with the struggles of coming out of that time and eventually the Aids epidemic that halted so many lives. It might not be your most original piece, but it crams enough genuine heart that it’s alarming how long this one sticks once the credits begin to roll. A grand, enduring and shattering love story that will permeate even the smallest of minds.
Dir: Neil Armfield
Scr: Tommy Murphy
Cast: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Sarah Snook, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush
Prd: Kylie Du Fresne
DOP: Germain McMicking
Music: Alan John
Runtime: 127 minutes
Holding the Man is released in UK cinemas on 3rd June, 2016.