Although homosexuality runs like a thread through this movie, I wouldn’t really call it a gay film. There is very little gay content and what there is, is cleverly suggested rather than outwardly shown. However, it’s an excellent movie in its own right, a film about class and prejudice and ambition that really shakes your perceptions of what is right and wrong. I’m not sure how this would be taken outside England. I think we are the only ones who can understand the exquisite agony of the class system portrayed in this film. The film comes in two versions: split screen and normal. I took a risk and decided to watch the split screen version. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you are it’s really quite interesting to watch. There are always three versions of what you are seeing on the screen, something a linear progression within a few seconds difference, something just from another angle or POV. It bombards the senses, which is fitting with the theme of the film.
Mathew Leitch is superb as Dean, the working class boy who through a series of fortunate coincidences finds himself hobnobbing with the wealthy aristocrats of London and Paris, passing himself off as Alexander, Lord Gryffoyn. Again, you’d have to be English to appreciate fully the subtleties of his accent, which moves from Romsford to Eaton Square over the course of the film.
It was a thought provoking film in many ways. During the course of his deception, Dean, aka Alexander, meets a young American hustler, who shares his desperation not to return to what he was. There is a tentative love story between them, but it’s too late for Dean: he’s committed to his course and sacrifices have to be made.
Surprisingly, the ending of the film manages to be a catastrophic failure of Dean’s ambitions as well as uplifting in a very unexpected way. In some ways the film’s plot reminded me of “The Wrong People”: the idea of a rich and educated man taking a boy on to be educated. In both, the sexual complications destroy what could be a genuine altruistic act. By the time Dean is discovered, he’s genuinely touched the hearts of some of those who befriended him.
A good film, not relaxing to watch in the split screen format, but well worth a look.
Think a modern Pygmalion with elements of The Talented Mr Ripley told like a Gordon Merrick novel that strays into Alan Hollingworth and you’ll have a good idea what to expect from this British film. Initially sceptical I ended up rather liking it despite its problems.
I thought the whole thing rather implausible until I discovered it’s based on what really happened to writer/director Duncan Roy! What bothered me most was the failure of the actor playing the lead role to convince in his role.
Set in 1978 this is the rags to riches story of 18 year-old (that’s another thing, he looks older) Dean Page, self-confessed ‘oik’ from Romford, Essex- as one haughty aristocrat puts it, Dean is one of those from the lower orders ashamed he even exists. Dean longs to escape his working class background. His mother works as a waitress in a posh restaurant serving toffs. Together they pore over society magazines like Tatler dreaming of a way of life the likes of them can never aspire to. Dean is abused verbally, physically and sexually by his macho father while his adoring mother stands by, powerless to help her son when he’s thrown out of the house.
Dean goes to London where he reinvents himself as the son of aristocratic gallery owner, Lady Gryffoyn (Diana Quick), and for a whole year enjoys a champagne, caviar and cocaine lifestyle in London, Paris and the south of France. Dean is drawn into this double life of lies & deception out of his desperate desire to fit in and be accepted (by his father?). Dean is gay, though he never has opportunity to do anything about it until he hobnobs with the aristocracy, where his sexuality is accepted unlike his conventionally homophobic working class background. It’s a bit stereotypical: Dean the pretty and ‘sensitive’ mother’s boy with an abusive father who can't express his feelings except through violence and possibly has latent homosexual tendencies he recognises in his son.
Dean pulls off his charade with remarkable ease. Difficult to believe Dean as played by Matthew Leitch would’ve fooled anyone. His accent isn’t right and he doesn’t have the air of natural superiority of an old Etonion lordling. Yet he’s accepted without question- simply because he dares or because they all like him so much they WANT to believe in him? It’d be easier to buy that if Dean wasn’t so nondescript. He needs to be striking if not stunning and Leitch, sweet & innocent, just isn’t.
I remain unsure what was really going on with Dean: he seems to accept he's gay yet has flashbacks to the abuse by his father when having sex. The complexities of the character just aren't devloped properly.
Another thing that bothered me is the assumption the only way Dean could have the exciting life he craves is to become an aristocrat. By the late 70s/early 80s Thatcher’s Enterprise Culture was all about money, a lot of it acquired by clever boys just like Dean in the City. Birth no longer was prerequisite of wealth & power. Dean’s story would’ve been more believable placed in the 50s when Britain was more rigidly bound by class.
Dean meets a cute young Texan, Benjamin, a hustler with a similar background, who is the kept boy of David, an attractive English aristo in tax exile. Dean moves in with them and their relationship triangle is the aspect of the story that interested me most. Can Dean find love while living a lie? Is Benjamin too caught up in his own self-loathing to give Dean what he needs? That nice kind working class boy who loves his mother starts to lose himself in the decadent self-seeking world of privilege he insinuates his way into. The irony is that Dean is accepted by these horrible, shallow, snobby, bitchy people because he isn’t like them, though they keep telling him “You’re one of us” (while lending him more money), but he still can’t accept himself.
Some parts are just bad. There’s an excruciating scene early on when Dean first runs off and is picked up in Eaton Square by an ageing queen who shows off his acquisition to a dinner party of frightful camp friends. However the film is enjoyable enough in its own way as a different take on the coming of age story- I liked it rather more than Alan Hollingworth’s Line of Beauty (the novel) which does much the same thing with a respectable middle class boy equally in thrall to decadent aristocracy. There’s a great moment when David tries to blow Mrs Thatcher’s image on TV with a shotgun while another aristo makes catty comments about her hair- they recognise what Dean doesn’t, money not blood counts in modern Britain.
I saw the single screen version of this film but there's another that uses split screen technique to give multiple POV on different scenes that might deal with some of those weaknesses I mention.