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Categories: Movie Reviews

Director Neil Armfield crafts an honest, if generic, love story within the AIDS epidemic between the 70s and 90s.

HTM_7_Bob Caleo (Anthony LaPagalia)

[Plot details ahead.] Holding The Man is based on the memoire written by Timothy Conigrave in the early 90s, which became a cult-classic and was then adapted to a play, which the film is based upon. The film treads on very familiar territory, detailing the 15-year long love affair between Timothy Conigrave, played by the charismatic and dashing Ryan Corr, and John Caleo, played by the equally convincing and ever-so-cute Craig Stott. It’s a formulaic gay story that one can expect from the era of the mid 70s to early 90s involving the usual: closeted relationship, gay politics, promiscuity, public outrage, conservativeness, Christian values and, of course, the AIDS epidemic. Saying this, one cannot fully dismiss this drama as completely run-of-the-mill, possibly due to the truthful and innocent love story between Timothy and John.

The film features an array of big names, such as Geoffrey Rush as the university drama teacher, a goofy pushover in Guy Pearce as Timothy’s dad, and Anthony LaPaglia, who plays perfectly John’s austere, staunchly conservative Italian-Australian dad. Strands of the film do remind of films such as Milk, in its freshness in its depiction of the beginnings of awareness of the gay lifestyle as the well the focus on the AIDS epidemic and its effects on individuals in films such as Long Time Companion or the mainstream Philadelphia.

Timothy and John develop a relationship at high school, instigated by the geeky, arty Tim, who becomes infatuated by John’s dark, jocky good looks and gentle demeanour. The pair from a friendship, which develops into a secret relationship. After high school, Tim attends drama school and John takes the serious route by studying as a chiropractor. They break up prompted by Tim, a series of endless sexual and youthful experimentation follows, and they then get back together in their mid twenties. John is exceptionally convincing as a smitten puppy, as he takes Tim back in a heartbeat; perhaps Tim’s creativeness, care-freeness and fluidity is the antithesis to his more solid personality. 

Holding The Man 1

When the couple are diagnosed with HIV, the story picks up pace. A sad sequence of events where the couple go to get tested, where John is misdiagnosed at first as HIV negative. However, Tim’s positive result sets the record straight. It is all very tragic, at points a slightly too soppy to watch, maybe in the familiarity and predictability of it all. John’s health declines rapidly, parental conservative Christian values come to the forefront, there’s the usual demonization of gay lifestyles, the gay partner wanting to be considered in the decision-making, etc. The resistance between the two camps starts to fade away and they reluctantly unite as the once-strong body of John becomes ravaged by an AIDS-related illness to his eventual death.

Holding The Man is a modest yet endearing story about a long-term gay relationship. The story does follow a tried and tested and possibly dated recipe of a gay AIDS-era-based film. The film is stylishly presented and the acting is very strong, and despite the achingly sad ending the film is, at points, warm, funny and carefree. Furthermore, the film is realistic in its portrayal of the struggle of the parents, in the way they deal with their son’s gayness and their disease, their anger, their frustration, in comparison to previous films such as Philadelphia where these aspects are glossed over completely despite said film being released in 1993. Overall, Holding the Man is a highly watchable drama which keeps you engaged throughout. This may be attributed to the film’s two main leads, but also to the fact that the story does still resonate. 

Holding the Man opens in select cinemas and On Demand on 3 June and screens as part of POUTfest this summer. For a full list of cinemas showing the film go to peccapics.com/product/holdingtheman.

Daniel Theophanous

Daniel Theophanous is based in Hackney, London. He studied at Goldsmith College, he is a PR Director at Theo PR and as well an avid Film & TV lover. He organizes the London Fields Free Film Festival.

Posted on May 26, 2016

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