›› The Lost Language of Cranes ‹‹

a film by Nigel Finch.

1991 | 87 mins | UK.

a powerful coming out work of sexuality and secrets.

Dave says:

Based on the critically acclaimed novel by David Leavitt, albeit with the narrative revision of its Manhattan Jewish family background changed to a London suburban middle-class backdrop, the main core of the story as adapted by Bent director Sean Mathias no less thankfully remains intact, in this dramatic screen depiction of a family whose long buried secrets are set to be disclosed with irrevocable consequences for one and all.

For this is the story of twenty-something Philip (Angus MacFadyen); a young man who with a warning from his American boyfriend Elliot (Corey Parker) nonetheless has decided that the time is right for him to say it like it is and out himself to his parents, namely his University lecturer father Owen (Brian Cox) and his literary editor mother Rose (Eileen Atkins). Yet their reaction to his coming out speech is not exactly what he envisaged, with Rose furious not with her son for being gay, but in having irreversibly changed the family dynamics; preferring that certain secrets should remain that way. Turning to his father for moral support, Philip instead finds in Owen a man all but lost for words. Yet unbeknown to Philip the situation is a lot more complicated, given the viewer is well aware from the onset that his father is leading a double life, ever the respected heterosexual head of the household by day, only to frequent the darkened all male porno cinemas of Soho, at night. But for how long can Owen remain in the closet, when his son has let his homosexual heart openly run free?

In many ways this BBC Screen 2 presentation could and should have been given a cinematic release, if perhaps it were not for its 4:3 aspect ratio being a clear indication of its origin. Don't let that put you off however, for this is a pure gem of gay cinema, that of a beautifully crafted drama that deals with issues of love, betrayal, sexual acceptance and if anything the act of forever living a lie and therein a question mark over the life that could have been.

Yet for all of the many positives of this work, including and for a telemovie being remarkably gay to the core, intercut with full frontal nudity, gay sex, let alone scenes of a pornographic nature, to some it could appear dated, not least by way of the repetitive crane imagery that whilst requisite to the plot, does make for scenes that are seemingly at odds with the narrative itself. Or are they? For at heart this is a work all about communication, or rather the lack of it, be it when an abandoned child left in isolation develops its own language to survive by mirroring the movements of the cranes in a nearby building site, OR that of a language, call it the 'gaydar' that here has been lost between father and son, given neither read the signs that the other is gay.

To that end and as expected, Cox is on splendid form throughout as a man who and like many men of yesteryear and even today, married into family life for the sake of social conformity and by way of his out 'n' proud son, is faced with the decision of whether or not to finally embrace his homosexuality and perhaps find friendship and more in his chance encounter with a man of equal married guise. Only and in as much as MacFadyen shines as the catalyst of the piece, it's Atkins who by no surprise steals the show, achingly portraying a woman who has seen her regimented life turned upside down and in the process has been forced to reveal her own long kept secret.

Complete with cameos from noted director John Schlesinger and actor Rene Auberjonois of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine renown as Elliot's devoted parents, together with fine support from Cathy Tyson of Priest fame as the boys best friend Jerene and Ben Daniels of Beautiful Thing note as boyfriend to be Robin, the result is a powerful coming out work of sexuality and secrets, one whose BBC4 screening took place in the same week as the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 was held, that of a 'United by Music' extravaganza staged in Liverpool on behalf of Ukraine in true 'proud to be whoever you want to be' style. All of which makes for a deeply poignant juxtaposition between the sexual openness of times that are now and the closeted times that were and for some, still are. That director Nigel Finch went on to even greater critical acclaim with his wondrous celluloid swansong Stonewall goes without saying, given both films are - simply superb.

›› a BBC Screen 2 presentation: 9th February, 1992 / UK.
›› BBC4 screening: Wednesday, 10th May, 2023: 10:00pm - 11:30pm / UK.
›› posted: Friday, 19th May, 2023.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - the full monty | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› copyright © 2023 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com ‹‹
›› archive reference #2023005 ‹‹
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