How would you feel if you know you killed the love of your life? That’s the dilemma Tim Conigrave finds himself in when his partner – his husband – of 15 years is diagnosed with HIV. His response became the 1995 bestselling and award-winning memoir, Holding the Man, which was later turned into a much-loved stage play.
The film adaptation, HOLDING THE MAN, charts the same course as it recounts Conigrave’s relationship with John Caleo from the time they hooked up as teenagers in 1976 at a Catholic boys’ prep school in Melbourne through their college years and beyond, taking in the AIDS epidemic that ravaged the Sydney gay community (and others elsewhere) in the 1980s and ’90s. Though the film doesn’t delve as deeply into Conigrave’s thoughts and feelings as the book does, it is adept at showing how their love was able to overcome every adversity thrown their way but one. Interestingly, or perhaps unfortunately, Conigrave’s recollection of that time seems to be somewhat rose-coloured. Australia in the 1970s and ’80s is often thought of as being conservative and macho but you wouldn’t know it from the film. Episodes of homophobia are depicted; however, the boys’ teachers are shown as being progressive enough to let their relationship continue (not that it shouldn’t have!) as long as they didn’t have to witness the personal displays of affection for themselves. Both Conigrave’s and Caleo’s parents get the halo treatment too, though less so with Caleo’s father who is more vocal about his feelings than the others are. The virus is the only true “bad guy” in the film and the toll it takes on its victims is devastating.
HOLDING THE MAN stars Ryan Corr (THE WATER DIVINER) as Conigrave and Craig Stott as Caleo, with strong supporting performances from Guy Pearce (ALIEN: COVENANT) and Anthony La Paglia (TV’s WITHOUT A TRACE) as the boys’ fathers. Geoffrey Rush (THE BOOK THIEF; TV’s GENIUS.) makes a brief appearance as Conigrave’s acting teacher. Although Corr and Stott are a little too old to pass for high school students with their five o’clock shadows (I could only muster a cheesy moustache at that age), they are convincing as the two characters leave uni and begin their respective careers.
Not surprisingly, the film, which was released in 2015, received high praise from both critics and audiences on its home turf. Outside of a few film festivals, it hasn’t had wide distribution though. The film is finally coming to Hong Kong thanks to the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong. It will be screened on Friday night, June 30, 2017, at the Sky Cinema, Olympian City (Olympic MTR station) at 7 pm. Tickets are $300 each with all proceeds going to the AIDS Concern charity in Hong Kong. For more information, please visit their website at http://aidsconcern.org.hk.
Do go see the film, not just to support the charity. Be sure to bring along plenty of Kleenex though. It’s a weeper.
A few statistics about HIV/AIDS in Hong Kong:
In 2016, 692 HIV cases were reported to the Centre for Health Protection, compared with 725 in 2015.
In the first quarter of 2017, 202 new HIV cases were reported in Hong Kong. This is the highest level since records began in 1984.
More younger men (between the ages of 20 and 29) are now being infected with the virus compared to the major age group of 30 to 39 in the past.
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