A Single Man

Director    Tom Ford
Starring    Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jon Kortajarena, Teddy Sears
Release    13 FEB (US) 12 FEB (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


16th February 2010

Did everyone in the 1960s walk around with perfectly bouffanted hair, expertly lined eyes, a martini glass poised in one hand and a cigarette hanging artfully from the other, chattering about the Cuban missile crisis? We, the modern audience, would like to think so and Tom Ford is only too happy to indulge us. Consequently, A Single Man has an unreal, dreamlike quality to it - this is life through a Vaseline smeared lens, the 1960s as seen in a vintage Vogue magazine.

George Falconer (Colin Firth), a gay British college professor living in California in 1962, decides this day, the day the film documents, will be his last. Having lost his partner of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode), some months ago, George finds his life devoid of meaning. Waking up in the morning is a source of pain, George informs us in a voiceover. How does a person spend their last day on earth?

Well, George spends it like any other - he gets up, goes to work, talks to friends, colleagues, students - all the while carrying a gun with him. But this day takes on a new potency for George, which Ford communicates with his gorgeous use of colour; cold grey becomes warm orange before our eyes.

[gallery]As George goes about his day we learn more about his relationship with Jim through a series of flashbacks. Their relationship is beautifully rendered and utterly believable without being overly sentimental. There's a bit of man flesh on show, all tastefully done of course, more Brideshead than Queer as Folk. Nicholas Hoult provides further opportunity for man flesh as a student who takes a shine to George. He is a doe-eyed, sun-kissed embodiment of youth George feels both protective and lustful towards.

The fun is provided by the scenes featuring Julianne Moore as George's friend Charley, a washed up glamour puss, a flurry of eyelashes and hairspray. To say Julianne Moore is excellent is to state the obvious - it's Julianne Moore for god's sake.

It's hard to believe this is a debut film for Ford - it is immaculate. It is not real life and some may find the lingering pace frustrating, while the sheer glossy perfection of it could easily have detracted from its dramatic impact. The load on Firth's shoulders was even greater therefore, for he had to make George real and sympathetic against a backdrop of impossible Californian glamour.

Fortunately Firth is more than equal to the challenge. Thank Christ he is getting too old to appear in romcoms, let's hope Renee Zellweger keeps refusing to chub up for another dose of Bridget Jones. Now, at last, we can see what Firth is capable of. The Oscar's got Jeff Bridges' name written all over it, but A Single Man has distinguished Firth as one of Britain's finest actors, with or without a statuette.

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