4 stars
“The story of our love will travel the world, will travel the whole world over.”

WATCH our interview with Craig Stott and Ryan Corr here
In a room bursting with anticipation, the film adaptation of Tim Conigrave's beloved Holding The Man met its audience. It wasn't one to be disappointed, and director Neil Armfield (Candy) ensured they got exactly what they came for: laughter, tears, drama and heartache. After all, the memoirs of a young Australian who buries his long-term lover in the early-90's had it all.

Faithful to the spirit of the book, this touching adaptation of Tommy Murphy's successful play (which he reworked for Armfield) spins out the central theme of Romeo And Juliet – star-crossed lovers who struggle with family and circumstance despite the odds. Formidable odds as it turns out. But back in a more innocent 1976 John Caleo (Craig Stott) was the hunky captain of the high-school football team who meets handsome Tim (Ryan Corr - The Water Diviner) of the drama class. Unexpectedly, they fall in love then are outed by their parents, much to the horror of John's father (Anthony LaPaglia - Balibo). Yet despite the slings and arrows of outrageous friends and family, they stick it out, even when Tim wins a place at NIDA and moves to Sydney.

The success of Holding The Man rests with its cast, all of whom are on a scale somewhere between excellent and exceptional. As Tim, Corr is a triumph. He and Stott are perfectly cast and ooze an easy charm that binds the film. There are some lumpy moments with 26 year old men playing teenagers (it didn't work in Grease, it's not particularly convincing here either), but the leads ease us past the distraction. There's not a moment when you don't doubt the sincerity of Tim and John's love, passion and fear, which is the heart of Conigrave's story. As the boys' parents, veterans LaPaglia, Camilla Ah Kin (), Guy Pearce (The Rover) and the always excellent Kerry Fox (Bright Fox) lend sizeable heft in support. As strong, defined characters, they don't give in to hysterics or cliché as they tangle with their son's relationship.

Once in Sydney, Tim is seduced by bright lights and brighter boys but being the early-'80s, HIV/AIDS is the price of entry. When he and John get the inevitable news, it's a downward spiral to an inevitable end. Yet amid the bed pans and pain, the panic and outrage, there is a sense of lightness, of humour, that keeps them, and the film, alive. It's what has made Holding The Man the favourite it is.

Armfield is a noted stage director whose relationship with actors is well known, though here that comes at the price of cinematic possibility. There's a sense he's holding back until the end (well judged, as it turns out). But what you loose in grandeur you gain in detail – Tim wanking over a stolen copy of his mother's Cleo magazine for instance. It ensures greater audience engagement with frequent recognition of your own life lived on screen, in part or in whole. Corr's light touch only makes this more tangible, more intense such as when he barks at hospital officials:“We've been together fifteen years. He is my husband!”

There's a not unreasonable argument that the film has arrived late, and lost some of its power along the way. AIDS is not the spectre it once was and risks being viewed an historical curiosity. However, as a document of a terrifying era that significant numbers of any audience have lived through, Holding The Man holds its own. There was barely a dry eye in the house come the closing credits as Armfield tapped genuine emotion from an audience grateful they hadn't been exploited.

Stick around for a treat at the very end, and remember to keep a spare tissue – you'll need it.


Previewed at The State Theatre, Sydney, on 19 June 2015

READ our interview with Craig Stott and Ryan Corr here

Ryan Corr
Craig Stott
Anthony LaPaglia
Guy Pearce

Neil Armfield

Tommy Murphy



130 minutes

August 27, 2015
Holding the Man (2015) on IMDb
Stacks Image 21553
Stacks Image 21556