Holding the Man marks the filmmaker’s first cinematic endeavour in a decade following Candy in 2006, starring Heath Ledger. In 2011, following the actor’s premature death, Ryan Corr was the recipient of the prestigious ‘Heath Ledger Scholarship’ and he takes on the leading role of fledging actor Timothy Conigrave – whose memoirs lay the foundations for the narrative to thrive from.
Tim fell in love with John Caleo (Craig Stott) at school. The former an eccentric thespian, the latter being captain of the football team. The two embark in a passionate relationship that spans the next decade and a half – as they come up against mindless ignorance during this tumultuous time. Though while defeating the homophobes and ensuring their love prevails, they come up against a new, formidable threat that may not be so easy to combat.
Armfield balances pathos and comedy in a remarkable fashion, with an overt, if affectionately frothy first half, which revels in the notion of romance, in spite of the adversity towards it. We play on the small quirks of life, the humorous elements that derive from tragedy. But as the picture takes a turn and the tone shifts dramatically, we’re already on board, so when the profundity eclipses the playful nature of this title, we’re able to invest, and remain emotionally caught up in the narrative. One scene in particular, with Rufus Wainwright’s Forever and a Day playing over the top, stands out, as unforgettable and moving as the Etta James inspired dance sequence in Colin Firth’s A Single Man.
Perhaps this is helped by the very opening scene, as we are made aware from the offset that this title may not have a particularly happy ending. This seeks only in adding a rather pointed emotionality to proceedings that lingers over the picture like an active volcano as you anticipate its eruption. What also helps matter tremendously, is the performance of Corr, who carries such an ineffable sense of charisma, and is so perfect for the role. Both actors must be commended for never overstating the performances, managing to be idiosyncratic and endearingly eccentric in parts, and yet always remaining subtle, with such nuanced displays.
The chemistry between the pair is palpable to say the least, and while it has become something of a cliché now to cite the lead performers rapport as a key component in a romantic drama coming together, when the entire picture revolves around their relationship, and the notion of true love lingers most prominently, then it’s simply essential to believe in and adhere to the core relationship at hand – and within this indelible title that much is a given.