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Monday, 6 September 2010

Produced, directed and written for the screen by the openly homosexual fashion designer Tom Ford, A Single Man (2009) is vigorously and unrelentingly situated in southern California of the early 1960s. Sets were designed by the same crew responsible for the visual appeal of hit TV drama Mad Men. The screenplay is based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood.

Most of the drama revolves around two unrelated points, although the fact of Professor George Falconer's (Colin Firth) homosexuality causes a wee bit of angst in the viewer, especially as the story takes place during a period when sexual orientation was not openly discussed and deviation from the heterosexual norm was relatively less easily tolerated than it is today.

First there's the gun Falconer stashes in his bag as he prepares to kill himself following the accidental death, in a car crash, of his 16-year lover. Falconer prepares everything in great detail and he takes the gun to the campus - and, disconcertingly, the bank - because he must purchase shells to load it with.

But the main point of dramatic effect comes along with the attentions of a young student, Kenny Potter (Nicholas Hoult). As a member of faculty, Falconer would have qualms about becoming sexually involved with a student enrolled in his English literature class. Potter's moves on Falconer generate a fair bit of tension and this seems, in the end, to neutralise his self-destructive impulses. Unfortunately for Falconer, he has a stroke during the night and dies on the floor of his bedroom. Potter is sleeping beyond the sliding door on the couch.

The door, the couch, the car, the parking lot, the classroom, the campus kiosk - everything, in fact - are present in authentic form and guise. These elaborate props are as fresh and modish as a red moped parked outside a trendy cafe on an inner city suburban street. It's most unnerving that Ford included one of his own dogs - named India - in the script. This focus on externals does not irreparably damage the film's ability to move the viewer. What sucks the life out of the drama is the the story's small scope. It's an itsy-bitsy movie that has been made to compete with its enormous fashion sense.

Sure, Potter is gay. There's enough gay paraphernalia in the film to sink an amphibious pink Jeep. When the young man finds the picture of Falconer's dead lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), hidden beneath the Band-Aids in a bathroom drawer we know - at that precise point - that Potter is queer. There's some comfort in that. But what on earth is Falconer going to do with the young man?

Nothing comes of the sexual friction the two generate. Nothing comes of anything, in fact. The main concern of the filmmakers is to make sure that the bath robe that Falconer will die in is the right shade of brown to match the carpet. It is, of course.

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