Holding the Man

Holding the Man ★★★★

I was unfamiliar with the true story of Timothy Conigrave’s relationship with John Caleo but, after seeing several positive reviews for this film on Letterboxd, I knew it was something I wanted to check out. Thanks to Liverpool Pride and POUTfest LGBT Film Tour, I finally got that opportunity.

Unfortunately, I thought this film started off quite poorly. As great as Ryan Corr’s and Craig Stott’s performances are later on, they play the least convincing teenagers in cinematic history! The blossoming relationship between the two characters seems very rushed and it is very awkward to watch Tim’s obvious advances on someone who initially doesn’t seem gay or interested. It was verging on grooming. There are a few humorous moments in the opening half an hour but not much to keep me interested.

However, just when I thought I knew where this film was heading, it jumps to 1985 and there is a sudden shift in tone that completely knocked me like a punch to the gut. The film becomes very difficult to watch and the audience feels like they are experiencing this unexpected life-changing revelation alongside the characters.

There is a moment after this revelation when Tim Conigrave becomes so unlikable as he thinks back to all the events that lead up to this terrible moment. I commend Tim for his honesty throughout his memoir but I was worried that this film was going to lose me completely. Thankfully, Tim manages to redeem himself and his relationship and, from this point, the film goes from strength to strength.

It is truly beautiful yet tragic watching these two people, who clearly love each other so very much, go through the horrifying effects of the AIDs virus whilst also struggling with the acceptance of their families. It is in these moments, when they’re not trying to play characters clearly much younger than they really are, that both Corr and Stott shine. I truly believe in their relationship, their love and their anguish and it is not an easy watch. Stott’s performance during the later stages of the virus is, quite possibly, the most convincing portrayal of the AIDs virus I have seen on screen. It is truly heartbreaking!

Tim Conigrave’s memoir is totally honest, tragic but also joyful and full of love. Despite the terrible effects of the AIDs virus, there are hints of hope: hope for love and hope for acceptance. There is no doubt that Tim and John loved each other and it is wonderful to see their relationship develop from the exciting beginnings, the rocky middle, and the tragic moment that made their bond stronger than ever. They were there for each other every step of the way.

This film had a clear impact on me. All I wanted to do once the end credits rolled was rush home as fast as I could and hug my partner tightly and never let him go. This is a great film that touched me on so many levels. Thank you Tim for sharing your memoirs with the world and I’m sure, wherever you and John are now, you’re spending eternity pain free and happy together.

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