Damien Love’s TV high­lights including Man In An Or­ange Shirt


The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

Mon­day Man In An Or­ange Shirt 9pm, BBC Two Queers 10pm, BBC Four

WRIT­TEN by nov­el­ist Pa­trick Gale, the two-part Man In An Or­ange Shirt forms the cen­tre­piece of the BBC’s Gay Bri­tan­nia sea­son, mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the 1967 Sex­ual Of­fences Act that de­crim­i­nalised “ho­mo­sex­ual acts” be­tween men over 21 in Eng­land and Wales. (In Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land, it pays to re­mem­ber, the law wouldn’t change un­til the 1980s.)

For his story, which splits – too neatly – across two time frames, Gale has drawn on per­sonal and family history, par­tic­u­larly a story his mother told him about an in­ci­dent shortly be­fore he was born. One day, while preg­nant with him, she found some old let­ters stuffed in his father Michael’s desk. Be­gin­ning to read, she re­alised it was a cache of love let­ters – and then that, rather than be­ing from some pas­sion­ate old girl­friend, as she first as­sumed, they were from the man she had al­ways known as Michael’s best friend. A ver­sion of that dis­cov­ery lies at the heart of the first episode. Fol­low­ing a present-day pro­logue in which we meet the el­derly Flora (Vanessa Red­grave) and her adult grand­son, Adam (Ju­lian Mor­ris), the drama

flashes back to the fi­nal years of the Sec­ond World War. While she teaches in Eng­land, young Flora’s fi­ancé Michael (Oliver Jack­son-Co­hen) is over­seas, fight­ing along­side Thomas (James McAr­dle), a war artist. Con­va­lesc­ing after a heavy at­tack, they spend more and more time to­gether un­til, on the fi­nal night be­fore they get posted in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, they grab a last-chance kiss.

After the war, rather than re­turn im­me­di­ately to Flora, Michael tracks Thomas down to his Lon­don stu­dio. The two re­treat to a coun­try cot­tage owned by Michael’s family, and spend a brief, idyl­lic spell liv­ing to­gether, be­fore re­turn­ing to the city, and to real life in a coun­try de­ter­mined to crush and de­hu­man­ise them, where be­ing gay is an im­pris­on­able of­fence. Michael mar­ries Flora, and re­signs to keep­ing his true self hid­den – un­til the bit­ter night she finds love let­ters Thomas wrote him.

Gale’s drama is sin­cere, well in­ten­tioned and from the heart. But there’s some­thing lack­ing. Man In An Or­ange Shirt feels fa­mil­iar and pre­dictable, a story we’ve seen far too of­ten be­fore. Of course, it rep­re­sents a story too many peo­ple were forced to live out, but there’s no con­vinc­ing heat or life.

Next week, part two, which flips to the present to see the still-bit­ter Flora try­ing to come to terms with her life and feel­ings as her grand­son wres­tles with his sex­u­al­ity in to­day’s os­ten­si­bly eas­ier cli­mate, is more interesting, if only for giv­ing the im­pe­ri­ous Red­grave more screen­time. But the open­ing episode doesn’t of­fer many rea­sons to re­turn. Mired in syrupy mu­sic, it’s pret­ti­fied, wor­thy, trag­i­cally hand-wring­ing and dead­en­ingly po­lite, doff­ing its cap to gain en­trance to the prime time liv­ing rooms of the UK. Com­pared with the sub­ver­sive, two-fin­gers-up stance of “a gay drama” like Prick Up Yours 30 years ago (in which Red­grave also fea­tured), it looks like a back­ward step.

There’s more sur­pris­ing and mov­ing life, how­ever, in Queers (BBC Four), also part of the sea­son. Eight mono­logues by dif­fer­ent writ­ers op­er­at­ing in dif­fer­ent moods and dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods, all di­rected by Mark Gatiss, th­ese 20-minute minia­tures are go­ing out in dou­ble bills Mon­day-Thurs­day. Look out in par­tic­u­lar for tonight’s opener, The Man On The Plat­form, writ­ten by Gatiss, with a won­der­ful per­for­mance from Ben Whishaw as a First World War sol­dier; and Tues­day’s Miss­ing Alice, by Jon Brad­field, bril­liantly de­liv­ered by Rebecca Front as a 1950s wife.

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