Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

ALL SURFACE, NO FEELING; Fashion Designer Tom Ford's Debut as Director Is So Immaculately Stylish That the Tragedy That Lies at the Centre of the Story Is Lost; FILM OF THE WEEK

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

ALL SURFACE, NO FEELING; Fashion Designer Tom Ford's Debut as Director Is So Immaculately Stylish That the Tragedy That Lies at the Centre of the Story Is Lost; FILM OF THE WEEK

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew O'Hagan

A SINGLE MAN Cert 12A, 101 mins **

YOU could argue that American gay writers were once much keener to find a subject in their gayness than British ones. Gore Vidal and James Baldwin were fairly relaxed and somewhat glad to be gay, while their older English equals, Auden and Spender and Isherwood, were shy of it. Auden remained dark on the subject and Spender said goodbye to all that, publishing his "gay" novel The Temple only in 1988, when he was 79. Isherwood moved to California early on and in 1962 he published his novel A Single Man, which tells the story of an English professor struggling with the death of his lover.

The story has now made it to the screen, directed by the fashion designer Tom Ford, and it offers a very precise example of how gay sensibility has evolved over recent decades, to become, as much as anything, an aspect of commercial thinking and of modern style. It was inevitable that this would happen with Ford at the helm, but, looking at the results, you might wonder if the soul of the conundrum -- the original character's loneliness and his being imprisoned by the pain of concealment -- hasn't been supplanted by too much visual gloss. George Falconer (Colin Firth) wears lovely suits and he lives in a beautiful California bungalow. As a professor, he likes books, and we see that his walnut cabinets contain many fine first editions.

His pristine bathroom is full of perfectly placed, excellent products, and you could eat your breakfast off the leather upholstery in his car.

His drapes look as if they are vacuumed every two hours; his hair looks like it is combed every 10 minutes; his bedding looks as if dust mites might expire on contact; and don't even get me started on the immaculate condition of his shoes. In the midst of all this, George is grieving over the death of his lover, Jim, whose family thought of George as his "friend" and banned him from Jim's funeral.

Every step of the way, George's emotional disasters are occluded by the perfection of his lifestyle. It wasn't called lifestyle in 1962, but it is now (mainly thanks to designers such as Ford), and as a viewer you can hardly gain access to our hero for all his stuff. This might have appeared to capture a very personal and truthful vibe to Ford, but for me, anyhow, the film early begins to feel like a suffocating arena of product placement.

George's gayness is not without joy but it lacks a single ungroomed moment, so much so that you find it hard to believe it possible that there could be any deep feeling in his hotel world. On this single day, the single man begins to plan his suicide, writing notes with the ideal fountain pen and laying out his funeral best. Ford does all this very lovingly, as if George's torture were a car ad or a spread in GQ. …

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