Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Love, pain & the whole damn thing: The Line of Beauty

Revisiting a gay classic: THE LINE OF BEAUTY, 2006.
Nick Guest comes to London to stay with his college friend's family, the Feddens. A short stay becomes permanent, as Nick makes himself useful and positions himself in the family's plentiful lives of parties and politics during the Thatcher years. Over the course of three episodes spanning four years in the mid-eighties, we follow Nick's two homosexual love affairs in a time of promiscuity and carelessness, until the AIDS crisis and a bout of scandal threaten the life of plentiful riches and gay love affairs that he seems destined for.

It was fascinating going back to re-view this BBC film from 2006 from Alan Hollinghurst's best-selling novel, faithfully (and explicitly) adopted by veteran Andrew Davies (PRIDE & PREJUDICE etc) and directed by Saul Dibb. Dan Stevens, as Nick (pre-DOWNTON ABBEY), was working the cherub look then and it certainly worked for him. Alice Krige is fascinating as ever as the family's mother who takes a shine to Nick and invites him to stay with them. We see him paying rent in the second episode, as he smoothly fits into the family, helping with entertaining and bonding with their troubled daughter during their frequent trips away. It is a fantastic house in expensive Notting Hill or Holland Park, which he - rather unlikely - has the run of. Lets have a look at the DVD blurb:

A story of love, loss, sex and money. THE LINE OF BEAUTY crawls deep under the skin of Thatcher's Britain. Framed by the two general elections which returned the Conservative government to power, the series unfolds through four extraordindary years of change and tragedy.
Nick Guest, a young gay Oxford undergraduate of modest means, is invited to stay with the wealthy Fedden family. Dysfunction and glamour come in equal measure with the Feddens: father Gerald, a Tory MP consumed by his rising status within the party, wife Rachel hardly aware of her manic-depressive daughter Catherine, and son Toby for whom Nick has had a secret crush ever since their time at Oxford.
Drifting through this world of wealth and power, of cocaine-fuelled country house parties and political soirees, Nick becomes entranced by their powerful, privileged life. But even the comfortable world of the Feddens and their social circle has cracks running through it - cracks that will profoundly affect Nick's life.

Episode One sees Nick settling in with the Feddens, and his romance with Leo (Don Gilet), as he dabbles in publishing and impresses guests with his knowledge of antiques and Henry James. Episode Two sees Rachel, Catherine's mother, getting dependent on Nick to keep her wayward daughter in line, as they go off yet again to France, and the MP Gerald (Tim McInnery) getting more powerful, particularly as it ends with Mrs Thatcher (Kika Markham. above) coming to their summer ball, where a coke-fuelled Nick asks the Prime Minister to dance - and she does! It is the culmination of the family's rise 
..... but that new disease affecting gays begins to intrude too, as one of Catherine's friends dies, and Nick is now involved with the wealthy Wani Ouradi (Alex Wyndham) whose Lebanese millionaire father, who is going to finance Nick's magazine, must not know of his son's sex and drugs romps with Nick, who also picks up a waiter at the summer ball. He also sees his ex- Leo, looking ill in a gay bar ... Kenneth Cranham and Barbara Flynn score too as millionare vulgarians who arrive by helicopter, at least Nick stands up to their homophobic comments. 

Episode Three is where it all comes down. Gerald, Rachel's husband, is caught having an affair, Nick's gay activities are also discovered by the gutter press who have been staking the house, as the family goes into meltdown. Hayley Atwell makes Catherine (who leaves home) a real character. Rachel is angry that Nick did not tell her that Catherine had been self-harming, which he dealt with (this is rather like Waugh's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, perhaps an influence on Hollinghurst's novel, where Lady Marchmain tries to co-opt Chares Ryder into reporting to her on Sebastian's activities). Suddenly there is no need for Nick any more as the disgraced Gerald turns on him (as we knew he would). Leo has died of Aids too, as his lesbian sister tells Nick, and we see a photo of Leo in his hospital bed ... Nick however is safe, and ends up leaving the house and driving away to a new future, though his boyfriend Wani is also sick now, that waiter turns up again too .... 
We also take in the gay scene at Hampstead Ponds, and at various high level soirees of the rich and powerful. The whole Mrs Thatcher visit is deliciously handled and it all captures that '80s greed in Thatcher's Britain, where it seems everyone was coked to the gills. 

Looking at it now, it makes an interesting companion piece to Kevin Elyot's play MY NIGHT WITH REG, covering that same mid-80s time in London during the Aids crisis - I covered that play's revival in my recent review, gay interest label. THE LINE OF BEAUTY remains a fascinating piece, almost 3 hours in all, but well worth your time. If only they had also filmed Hollinghurst's equally marvelous gay novel THE SPELL - or THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY, THE FOLDING STAR or his recent mammoth THE STRANGER'S CHILD, which would make a terrific mini-series with its changing eras.

Next BBC gay classic: The rare THE LOST LANGUAGE OF CRANES.

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