Desperation and danger smothered in tastefulness
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