Tom Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man is a quiet, emotive and beautiful film. A Single Man is based on Isherwood’s 1964 novel of the same name which has long been one of the most important works of contemporary LGBT fiction.
This is one of Firth’s best performances to date and earned him well-deserved critical claim. He handles Falconer’s grief with aplomb. The political backdrop serves to emphasise the extent to which Falconer is consumed by grief – his loss rendering him disinterested in events taking place in the wider world. His anger and grief is palpable throughout the film where moments of happy family life play in slow flashes of colour and muted sound, creating a distance between Falconer and his reality. There are black and white flashbacks of moments with Jim and the viewer is granted an insight into Falconer in happier times. His grief is quiet – not only because Falconer is reserved and not prone to dramatic displays of emotion – but because society demands that he grieve silently. He is not permitted to attend the funeral of his partner and most in his life seem unaware or dismissive of the relationship which was such a pivotal part of his life.
Despite the grief which resonates throughout the film, the mourning never becomes overwrought or oppressive. There are moments of light humour and sparks of sensuality. These come in Falconer’s interactions with his student Kenny, his brief interaction with an impossibly handsome Spanish boy he meets when buying gin and his friendship with Julianne Moore’s Charley.
As Kenny, Hoult is captivating. He’s beautiful and disaffected – fascinated by Falconer. Hoult’s Kenny is both shy and persistent, prone to looking at Firth beneath long lashes and skirting around the topic of invisible minorities without making any grand declarations out loud. Julianne Moore is fabulous in her role as Charley, Falconer’s best friend and one-time lover. She tackles the role with confidence, negotiating alcoholism and unrequited love with a sense of warmth. Moore’s Charley has all the devastating beauty of the Hollywood starlet and shots trained on her eyes as she applies makeup emphasise the layers to her character and the mask of outward happiness which slips on occasion during her evening with Falconer.
One of Firth’s best films to date and a self-assured and confident debut from Ford. A moving and affecting story of love, loss and grieving. Would highly recommend.