A Single Man, starring Colin Firth
Mike McCahill spends time with Tom Ford's directorial debut which features an outstanding Oscar and Bafta nominated performance by Colin Firth.
It would take a lot not to be upstaged by the clothes in designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, but thankfully Colin Firth is more than up to the task. A Single Man, Ford’s endlessly stylish adaptation of a Christopher Isherwood story, may go down as the moment when this often passive-seeming leading man finally threw off the soggy white undershirt of TV’s Pride and Prejudiceand assumed not just a new wardrobe but a whole new screen identity, justly earning himself an Oscar nomination in the process.
As George Falconer, a gay college professor in early 60s America, Firth gives an unusually, and necessarily, assertive performance. Falconer is both externally and internally busy over the story’s 24-hour span, struggling to maintain his veneer of sophistry while dealing with the fallout from his younger lover’s sudden demise in a car accident. He holds court in lecture theatres, then collapses in tears; he stumbles through several possibly redemptive flirtations, then ponders suicide; and somehow, somehow, there’s still time for cocktails
with Julianne Moore’s neighbour-confidante.
As you’d expect coming from one of the doyens of the fashion world, the film never lacks for visual panache: slow-motion lingering on naked male flesh, endless close-ups of eyes, and a neat lighting trick whereby characters clad in bright Technicolor hues momentarily rejuvenate the hero’s austere, black-white-and-beige world. As the crisp perfection of Falconer’s shirts - or the five-minute sequence of Moore applying eyeliner - makes abundantly clear, Ford’s alertness to textures rivals latter-day Almodóvar.
Not everything about the film is so seductive. After Revolutionary Road and TV’s Mad Men, we’re already highly familiar with the sumptuous sufferings of Eisenhower/Kennedy-era Americans, and Ford’s attentiveness threatens to tip over into fussiness, the director forever tidying away - or dressing up - the signs of George’s emotional dishevelment. The ending, in particular, feels more like a neat punchline, indifferent to its protagonist’s fate, than a truly satisfying pay-off. Still, despite these missteps, this is a quietly persuasive debut: if Firth’s acting doesn’t strike you, you’ll at least feel the urge to go shopping afterwards.
A Single Man is released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th February.