Patrick Gale’s brilliant two-part story loosely based on his own parents marriage of compromise is by far the best part of the BBC TV’s excellent Queer Britannia series that screened in the UK earlier this year. The Man in The Orange Shirt are beautiful tales of love across two interconnected films highlighting the very different challenges that faced the couples. With Michael and Thomas it was the 1940’s just after WWII, and with Adam and Steve it is the present day.
Spoiler type alert. Unless you possess a DVD region-free player and can play a UK DVD, you will have to be patient until June 18th 2018 when PBS will screen them both in US. Trust us, it is well worth the wait.
Part one tells the heartbreaking secret romance between soldiers Michael (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Thomas (James McArdle) returning to London after the end of WW2. What starts out as this wonderful blissful romance complete with a English country cottage with roses around the door, soon turns sour when Michael lets slip he is about to marry his childhood friend Flora ( Joanna Vanderham ).
He explains that he will wed her simply because that is what society expected in those days. “You didn’t think we could set up home together like man and wife,” splutters Michael, after Thomas takes umbrage at being asked to be his best man.
When the innocent and rather naif Flora discovers the truth of where her husband’s affection really lies, rather than leave him, she stays in the marriage intent instead on making his life hell.
All three seemed inexplicably trapped. An uptight Michael is unable to move beyond the life that is expected of him, whilst bohemian Thomas is unwilling to toe the line and so after he has been imprisoned for being gay, exiles himself to drink himself to death, and Flora is stuck in a marriage without either love or sex.
Part Two is the story of Michael’s grandson Adam (Julian Morris) a handsome closeted vet who is obsessed with gay hook-up sites. So much so that when nice designer Steve (David Gyasi) hits on him the old-fashioned way, Adam simply doesn’t know how to respond.
Adam still shares a house with his grandmother Flora (now played by Vanessa Redgrave) who has taken great care not to discuss her past with him. She is still feeling the pain of her loveless marriage so when Adam finally ‘comes out’ her response is one of anger. Luckily by this time Adam can accept that Steve doesn’t just want to restore the family county cottage that Flora has given to him, but he wants to work on Adam too.
The pieces in part two do neatly fit together in the end, but it is still worth having a full box of Kleenex handy just in case.
Kudos to Gale, and to Michael Samuels the director, and to the entire talented casts that both productions so compelling to watch and fall in love with too.
Hats off to BBC TV for the whole Queer Britannia series that they produced to mark the 50th Anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK and showing we still have a way to go yet.