Holding The Man is one of the most profound LGBT Australian books ever published. Released in 1995, the memoir chronicles the life of actor and activist Timothy Conigrave and his relationship with long-time partner John Caro, from their early days in high school through to their joint fight against HIV. But while the film adaptations still circulates around the love story between the couple, at the heart of the story is the fight for acceptance and recognition in a bigoted society not too unlike the one Australia still appears to be in.
Starting with the unexpected romance between Tim (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott) at their Melbourne Catholic high school, almost immediately the family disagree with their relationship, as the film primarily follows Tim through his growing and changing views and attitudes, as well as coming to terms to who he is as a gay man.
The most perfect thing about Holding The Man is that it is authentically Australian and any Australian LGBTIQA+ viewer would easily feel many of the same emotions Tim and John express on screen. Coming to terms with being gay in a straight world of backyard BBQs and suburban life is such a big part of the film that it’s unique and more relatable than blockbuster adaptations Angels in America and The Normal Heart.
From the need to hide their love for each other behind closed doors, facing violence in everyday settings, to protesting against the oppression of gay people and struggling with living HIV-positive life, Holding The Man handles each of the subjects with delicacy and at no point feels exploitative. Instead the film is heartbreaking and funny in equal measure, something I was not expecting.
Director Neil Armfield, one of Australia’s most notable theatre directors, takes the source material with a grain of salt, focusing strongly on the struggle of gay people in Australia’s history rather than the intricacies of Tim and John’s relationship as featured in the memoir. There is no lack of specificity in the medical struggles and sex life of Tim and John, and the candidness of the affair is rare and intense that the emotions stay with the viewer long after.
Tommy Murphy’s screenplay at times drowns the narrative with excessive dialogue and sadly doesn’t delve into more of the quiet moments of his memorable love story. There are excellent supporting performances by Guy Pearce, Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush, whilst unfortunately Sarah Snook and Tom Hobbs are underused. Corr and Stott steal the show (as they should), with Corr being his usual solid self, and I can only hope to see more of Stott in future films. No doubt awards will be going their way.
Holding The Man is a much-needed addition to the history of LGBTIQA+ people in Australia and its powerful message about acceptance, tolerance, recognition and equality seeps through the love on display by the leading characters. It’s recalling of the trials and tribulations of the homosexual community during its early years of public exposure is eye opening and audiences can only hope to continue to see more films about LGBTIQA+ experiences on the big screen in the future.
Originally published on Aphra Magazine, 2 September, 2015.