Des­per­a­tion and dan­ger smoth­ered in taste­ful­ness

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Screengrab - Ben Lawrence

BBC Two, Mon­day

he BBC, never bash­ful in pro­mot­ing an an­niver­sary, has de­cided to mark 50 years since the Sex­ual Of­fences Act le­galised ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Amid fatu­ous doc­u­men­taries cel­e­brat­ing gay art and quickly knocked-to­gether tes­ti­monies from men and women forced to live life per­pet­u­ally in the shad­ows, came

a two-part drama from novelist Pa­trick Gale. As a writer of sub­lime emo­tional eru­di­tion, Gale was likely to wring ev­ery drop of re­pres­sion from an un­happy love tri­an­gle. Henry David Thoreau’s ob­ser­va­tion that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet des­per­a­tion” felt very apt.

The first episode fo­cused on Michael (Oliver Jack­son-Co­hen) and Thomas (James McAr­dle) who met at pub­lic school in the Thir­ties. Michael had been “a beast” to Thomas back then, but a dra­matic re­union dur­ing the Sec­ond World War led them into each other’s arms. Michael was en­gaged by that point to the naive Flora (Joanna Van­der­ham) – “She’s al­most like a sis­ter to me” – and was strug­gling to sup­press his at­trac­tion to Thomas.

Thomas was a “con­firmed bach­e­lor”, while Michael, a dry old stick who whis­tled Beethoven’s 9th af­ter a tum­ble in the sack, was fright­ened of break­ing con­ven­tion. This may ac­count for Jack­son-Co­hen’s slightly bland per­for­mance, but gen­er­ally the act­ing was ter­rific. McAr­dle, an ac­tor with a hint of the great Ian Charleson about him, was deeply mov­ing as a man who knew he could never be en­tirely free, each procla­ma­tion of love weighed down by a sense of fu­til­ity. Mean­while, Frances de la Tour, whom I would pay to watch recit­ing all six vol­umes of Gib­bon’s De­cline and Fall of the Ro­man

TEm­pire in Swahili, gave a bril­liant, all-too-brief ac­count of the Bri­tish stiff up­per lip as Thomas’s mother. “It’s oddly like hav­ing him back at board­ing school,” she told Michael, af­ter her son had been im­pris­oned for gross in­de­cency.

Some­times, un­der the di­rec­tion of Michael Sa­muels ( Any Hu­man Heart), things be­came laugh­ably un­sub­tle. A tableau of tem­po­rary do­mes­tic bliss in Thomas’s slight­ly­too-idyl­lic coun­try cot­tage was in­ter­rupted by a scene in which Flora was seen teach­ing her class of prep-school brats about Achilles and Pa­tro­clus’s “friend­ship” (the head­mas­ter barged in and announced the end of the war be­fore any awk­ward ques­tions were asked).

Gen­er­ally, though, Gale’s script caught the grey­ness of For­ties life well: a sparsely at­tended reg­is­ter of­fice wed­ding; the drea­ri­ness of furtive assig­na­tions. In re­venge for her hus­band’s be­trayal, Flora pre­pared an aus­ter­ity din­ner. “Pud­ding’s only pears, I’m afraid,” she snapped.

And yet, this slav­ish ad­her­ence to the mood of the time some­times pre­vented Man in an Orange Shirt from pack­ing an emo­tional punch. So crisp were the cast’s vow­els that I won­dered whether they had been made to watch Brief En­counter on a loop. Ad­mit­tedly, there were some con­tem­po­rary con­ces­sions. I don’t re­mem­ber Trevor Howard ever ask­ing Celia John­son to but­ton up his flies. Had he done so she would have probably called him a silly ass and damp­ened his ar­dour with a mug of Oval­tine. Through­out, I couldn’t help think­ing that a bolder drama would have bet­ter caught the sense of per­se­cu­tion, the end­less shame, the sor­did and of­ten dan­ger­ous lives which many gay men, by ne­ces­sity, were forced to live be­fore 1967 (and in many parts of the world still are). Man in an Orange Shirt was sim­ply too taste­ful.

Hol­i­day World is a mono­lith on the Costa del Sol where thou­sands of peo­ple – mainly Bri­tons – spend their sum­mer hol­i­days ev­ery year. In a cer­tain light, it looks pink, and, at cer­tain an­gles, like it was de­signed by Escher. To me, Hol­i­day World is like some­thing straight out of a J G Bal­lard novel where, I don’t know, the happy hol­i­day­mak­ers are sur­ren­der­ing to a form of mind con­trol, en­forced by a sin­is­ter hote­lier who lives in a bunker con­cealed be­neath the re­sort’s 15 swim­ming pools.

I won­dered whether the cast had been made to watch

on a loop

showed the truth to be rather more pro­saic. Most of the guests ap­peared to be there for the all-you-can-eat buf­fet, al­though one was be­holden to the de­sign. “I like the wa­ter foun­tain in­side,” he said, misty-eyed. “Not all ho­tels have that.”

The first episode fo­cused pri­mar­ily on three fam­i­lies, all slowly blis­ter­ing like loins of pork un­der the Mediter­ranean sun. Much time was given to 12-year-old Danny Lloyd from Northamp­ton, a wannabe Billy El­liot and lead­ing light at the ho­tel’s aquafit class. As Danny pirou­et­ted his way across the asphalt, dad Wayne scowled un­con­trol­lably – al­though this was per­haps be­cause he had burned his bottom in the bidet.

Mean­while, James and Leanne were try­ing to ce­ment the friend­ship of Page and Krys­tal, their daugh­ters from pre­vi­ous

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