Holding the Man is coming to the screen in a year where it’s all too easy to make it something that it’s not – politically charged and cloying, moving away from its emotional centre. It helps that the film, an adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir that became a play in 2006, has a lot of heart and soul behind it. Yes, the level of love for the story means that there is a certain hesitance to modify the source material than would result in a tighter and more effective film (something that dragged down the film adaptation of RENT), but the long journey of bringing it to the screen was a labour of love that can only yield a faithful adaptation where the emotional beats feel authentically earnt.
Director Neil Armfield performs an effective balancing act of putting what could have been two very different films in one: film A being a story of youthful love that overcame all bounds, and film B being the type of AIDS drama that won Oscars in the 90s. From the early scenes where they meet as students at their all-boys high school and experience exhilarating young love, to dealing with the challenges of maintaining a relationship through separation, and then have to deal with a losing battle, the two leads wonderfully handle the changing beats. Ryan Corr and Craig Stott have fantastic, organic chemistry, both of them navigating the time jump that they are required to play with believability.
Across both films, however, it evokes a gentle reminder of a masculine culture, a country whose politics have failed to change as those of its people have. Institutionalised Christianity, that sticks around even though it seems like every month we’re being told that church attendance is at an all-time low, continues to rear its head every time it looks like progress is going to be made (case in point: just this week a simple screening of the documentary Gayby Baby at a high school occupied the headlines in another chapter into tediously long, needlessly politicised fight for equality). Am I now making this something it’s not? The film arguably preaches the least or seeks the least attention of any of its type that I’ve seen, a rarity in this genre. I wait for a day where I don’t need to.