A Single Man review – Colin Firth is reborn

Posted on 27 February 2010
By Toni Garden
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Isolation, bereavement and beauty.

These three words could sum up Tom Ford’s debut film, but to say that there is nothing more to this film would be a serious mistake and an undeserving knock on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, adapted to screen by Tom Ford himself.

Not only did Ford adapt the novel, direct and have a hand in the wardrobe he also funded most of the film. So this really his baby and what a morose but fluently beautiful child.

The final day in the life of George Falconer (Colin Firth) begins with George preparing for his departure to the afterlife. In the wake of his life lover’s death George seems set on his suicide and prepares with psychotic precision.

Leaving a note with explicit instructions for a “Windsor knot” intended for his burial tie, George answers a routine pre-eight AM phone call from alcoholic friend and neighbour Charley (played with bells on by Julian Moore) thus setting his final supper that evening.

Bidding farewell to life George embarks upon his final routine day at work as an English lecturer, imparting some words of advice and wisdom on the changing world he is about to leave behind to a new generation, including a Sedgwick and Warholesque couple Lois and Kenny (played by a slightly-tangoed Nicholas Holt).

With Colin Firth and Julian Moore on board, it seems their presence brings credential to what could otherwise have been described as an extended Perfume Ad (we all remember that ridiculous Channel Advert with Nicole Kidman) and perhaps easily overlooked.

But this performance really is Colin Firth’s rebirth. A step away from ‘Arsey Darcey.’ ‘Finally’ we hear you cry and with good cause, poor Colin has been drowning in Darcey since he emerged from that damn lake back in ’95* but this is perhaps the role he was born to play.

You can try to think of other British actors of a similar age that could have pulled this off, but somehow Pierce Brosnan just doesn’t cut the mustard and Ralph Fiennes has that weird accent and rather scary face that would have only served to scare off the punters.

Firth is exquisite. Using the quintessentially British attributes of sarcasm and dry wit we see George repress his true feelings and continue with his Patrick Bateman style routine of daily life. Anything revealing is left to extreme close ups and poised moments of reflection with relative strangers.

The most poignant being an accidental meeting with a beautiful Spanish rent boy (and surely Calvin Klein model) with whom George enjoys a farewell cigarette and the pink, smog filled sky line of Los Angeles.

From this brief exchange the audience is given a sense George’s great loss of companionship and love. Not to mention he declines the beautiful man’s come on and leaves with his bottle of Tanqueray… as you do.

Julian Moore to my utter horror has somehow been overlooked by the bigwigs in Hollywood for this film and not given a single nomination at any of the award ceremonies, but hell, what do they know?!

Moore is a joy to watch and plays George’s long time English friend and neighbor Charley with such finesse that it’s easy to let her off for being a drunken mess and see her instead as a lovable and relatable woman.

Providing a confidant and place of solace for George in his time of grief, the only two scenes between Firth and Moore are most revealing about George and provide a glimpse of humor, humanity and compassion.

Beauty is perhaps the third man of this film, if you will. Every element has been carefully calculated from the wardrobe, the actors, the original score, the direction and the cinematography. Beauty oozes from every pore, but even airbrushing can’t hide criticism for the beautiful ones.

Perhaps it is merely nitpicking, perhaps it’s attention to detail but some did comment that with SO much attention to costume, lighting and camera angles it can sometimes feel a little too clinical.

However, those critics must have missed the three separate occasions that I spotted the reflection of the camera crew in Firth’s (no doubt) fabulous Tom Ford glasses and in a mirror in Moore’s scenes of drunken buffoonery… just an observation.

With a twist at the end, that is perhaps a little obvious (to some clever dicks!) Ford has stayed true to a dark tale of life and its ironic tragedy making A Single Man emotionally honest and superbly executed.

A Single Man is now showing at Picturehouse at FACT