HOLDING THE MAN
Based on the much loved and hugely successful memoir (1995) and stage play (2006) of the same name, HOLDING THE MAN is the warm, funny and achingly sad story of the 15 year long love affair between Timothy Conigrave (Ryan Corr) and the boy he fell in love with at high school, John Caleo (Craig Stott). Tim was an aspiring actor. John, the captain of the school football team. Their relationship blossomed and endured in the face of prejudice, adversity and the cruel illness that devastated the gay community in the '80s. 1995 memoir by Timothy Conigrave. It was adapted for the stage by Tommy Murphy in 2006
Review by Louise Keller:
Exquisitely told, director Neil Armfield has captured the beauty of this 15 year-old love story whose emotional trajectory we share: joy, laughter, prejudice, outrage, pain and devastation. It's devastatingly sad and we know from the outset where the story is heading, but Armfield has managed to remove the distance between the audience and the screen, enabling us to embrace and experience something we will not forget.
After a brief prologue on an idyllic beach in Southern Italy, the story begins, as told by Timothy Conigrave (Ryan Corr). It is 1976 and Tim notices the school football team captain, John Caleo (Craig Stott) and his extraordinary eyelashes on the field. Will you go round with me, he asks John by phone after they connect - in geography class, in their respective family homes and in private. It feels like I've played a grand final, John tells Tim after they are intimate for the first time. The controversy and homophobic prejudice begins quickly at the Jesuit all-boys school and at home where John's father (Anthony LaPaglia) threatens court action if the affair continues. There are endearing moments, like the kiss through the fly screen window when the boys are kept apart but they are adamant they want to be together, defying their parents.
The flashbacks include the University days in 1979 when Tim successfully auditions for drama school and the tension when he proposes they have a trial separation and indulge in other sexual relationships. Multiple partners, promiscuity and group sex follows. Watch out for Geoffrey Rush in a cameo as the drama teacher who categorically tells Tim in a workshop that effeminate monkeys don't get work.
The 1988 scene after Tim and John have been diagnosed positive with AIDS and Tim discusses the situation with his mother as they make hors d'oeuvres before his sister's wedding is uncomfortable to the extreme. But these discomforts are countered by the magical moments like when they wrap their arms around each other on the dance floor to the tune 'I'm Too Far Gone'.
The downturn in health and the changing relationships with family account for the final chapters of the tale, when love and tenderness prevail. Some of these scenes are difficult to watch and overtly moving as we see first hand the tragic progression of the illness. Saying goodbyes and dealing with society's views are difficult.
The two central performances are superb, Corr and Stott encapsulating the emotional journey to perfection. The many uncomfortable moments are wonderfully realized and what we take away from the film is much more than what happens in the end. There is real insight into the relationship, the challenges faced and how the families and outsiders react to the situations. Tommy Murphy has adapted the stage play for the screen and in doing so has created a powerful work, lovingly nurtured by Armfield. The term Holding The Man is one from the football glossary, referring to a transgressing that incurs a penalty.
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HOLDING THE MAN (MA15+)
CAST: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Kerry Fox, Sarah Snook, Camilla Ah Kin, Guy Pearce, Anthony LaPaglia
PRODUCER: Kylie Du Fresne
DIRECTOR: Neil Armfield
SCRIPT: Tommy Murphy (based on memoir by Timothy Conigrave; adapted for stage by Tommy Murphy)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Germain NcMicking
EDITOR: Dany Cooper
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Josephine Ford
RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmision
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 27, 2015