Last week, I saw a film that has left a lump in my throat ever since. And I wasn’t alone; never before have I seen so many people in a cinema visibly in need of a Kleenex.
Based on the critically acclaimed memoir by Timothy Conigrave and directed by Neil Armfield, Holding The Man has been adapted for the screen to share the enduring 15 year love story of Tim and John Caleo.
Watch the trailer for Holding the Man here. Post continues below.
Tim and John, portrayed in the film by Ryan Corr and Craig Stott, were high school sweethearts who met at an all boys Catholic high school in the 1970s.
It was a time when consensual sex between two men was still considered illegal, and their families both struggled to come to terms with the nature of the boy’s relationship.
“My young adult girls have all read the book over recent years and they commented on how tough the parents’ reactions were.” Anna Davison, Conigrave’s younger sister, told Mamamia.
“I explained that those were the days before Ellen and Portia (in fact, Ellen was sacked when she came out on television); when Elton was married to a woman. Different times.”
As the relationship progressed and the boys settled into the happy rhythm of domestic life, their families became more accepting.
Tim and John both discovered they were HIV positive in the 1980s, a diagnosis that took them by surprise. A sense of panic rocked the country as the epidemic took hold, but the couple continued to fight for understanding.
Tim – a writer and actor by trade – fought passionately for gay rights and worked with the AIDs Council to develop HIV prevention campaigns and to provide support to other men.
Writer Tommy Murphy, who adapted the story for the stage and the screen, said that Tim responded to his diagnosis by dedicating himself to caring for John as his health deteriorated.
On Australia Day in 1992, John succumbed to the cancer which had ravaged his body, leaving Tim devastated.
As Tim recounts in his memoir, he was told that John’s family didn’t want anyone “making a statement” at the funeral and that he would be referred to as John’s friend during the service.
It’s a painful reminder that, before 2008, same-sex couples were given little recognition or legal support.
Following John’s death, Penguin committed to publishing the story and Tim completed the book in 1994, ten days before he passed away. Holding The Man was published posthumously the next year.
Twenty years on, the story of Tim and John is still incredibly important to the gay community. As singer Sam Smith said recently, the story has captured what it is like to grow up as a gay man.
“As a gay man, it’s very difficult sometimes to find films that I can properly and truly relate to,” Smith said on Instagram.
“The most powerful thing for me was how this book captured what it’s like to grow up gay and all those confusing, scary and amazing moments I had coming out and realising who I was.”
It’s not hard to understand why Holding The Man has had such a profound affect on audiences across the country. By telling the story of a gay relationship and all the beautiful complexities of Tim and John’s intoxicating love for one another, the film sends its audience a very powerful message: that love is for everyone.
In the film, Tim asks John to marry him. It’s a sentiment that didn’t carry much weight when the book was first published and Murphy said that he didn’t recall the line standing out in the play, but it will chime a little louder in cinemas this year.
“Locally some baffling responses to the issue of marriage equality have arisen. It’s an extraordinary time to be telling a story about an heroic quest of equality. We didn’t predict this would be the context our film would arrive in cinemas.”
Ryan Corr has encouraged prime minister Tony Abbott to see the film to challenge his archaic views on same-sex marriage.
“We’re behind the rest of the world in progressive ideas like this,” Corr said. “It’s plain and simple: people should have the right to marry and love who they want.”
To this day, Anna wears the ring that John gave Tim and in many ways, Holding the Man is a poignant reminder that despite how far we’ve come in recognising LGBTI+ rights, we’ve still got so far to go.
And as people sit audibly crying while watching the the story unfold in cinemas across the country, Tim and John’s love for one another certainly has the power to impact a whole new generation and spur on the conversation about equality in Australia as we continue to fight for equal love.
To find out where you can see the film, go here.
Have you seen Holding The Man? What did you think?
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