Imagine what might have happened if Douglas Sirk had created his own fashion line. Conversely, imagine what kind of movie Donatella Versace might make given half a chance (on second thoughts, no, please don’t). Well, famously provocative designer Tom Ford has gone one better. He conquered the empires of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent as a top trendsetter, got bored, and fixed his gaze on cinema instead. The result? A Single Man: the kind of confident debut that radiates personality and visual flair while retaining a quietly fluttering heart.
It’s evident from the outset that Ford’s involvement in A Single Man isn’t based on a frivolous impulse. Yes, the film is an experimental exercise, flaunting voguish superfluities. But scrape a little at its stylised veneer, and you uncover a film that swells with warmth.
Widely considered novelist Christopher Isherwood’s greatest work (and the author’s own favourite), A Single Man is the tale of grieving middle-aged lecturer George. Eight months ago, his partner of 16 years died. Unable to escape his melancholy, George (played here with tantalising refinement by Colin Firth) is coasting through life on the currents of memory. Deciding he can go on no longer, he resolves to end his life. We meet him here, on what could be his last day.
Streamlining Isherwood’s 1964 novel, Ford snips away any non-essential characters to concentrate on the central quartet of George, his lovey, midlife-crisis-consumed pal Charley (Julianne Moore), dead love Jim (Matthew Goode, seen in flashbacks) and young student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). The result is a curious convergence of both men’s personalities. Isherwood’s penchant for pretty youths is retained in the form of Hoult’s beautiful, curious student, while Ford imbues Moore’s Charley with a distinctly British bent (there are definite whiffs of Ab Fab’s Patsy).
“When I die, people can look at this movie and know what I was about,” the director has said. And it’s true, his fingerprints are all over A Single Man; from George’s new surname (borrowed from Ford’s first love), anecdotes about shaved eyebrows (Ford’s own faux pas), even our lead’s dogs are played by Ford’s mutts.
It’s fitting that the filmmaker’s opulent imagery should repeatedly return to eyes, this being as near to a celluloid imprint of a man’s soul as it’s possible to get. Hyper-stylised but with careful nuance, A Single Man only stumbles in its third act as the visual tricks give way to a clumsy climax that feels strangely disconnected from the philosophy of what has gone before.
Anticipation: Firth has had good buzz, and the trailer suggests Ford’s fashionista savvy could translate well to cinema. 3
Enjoyment: A film about death that is bursting with life and passion. 4
In Retrospect: Film couture, dazzling in its optical majesty. Shame about the third act stumble, but A Single Man establishes Ford as an auteur in the making. Singularly brilliant. 4