A Single Man – Review

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George (Colin Firth) is a gay English professor, whose life is thrown into turmoil when he gets a call to say that his boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode) has died in a car crash.

It’s one of Jim’s relatives doing him the courtesy of letting him know – understanding his loss, but in 1960s California, the loss might be understood, but it’s not accepted, and George is devastated not to be invited to the funeral.

Over the months that follow, George finds it increasingly difficult to cope alone.

His best – and pretty much only – friend Charley (Julianne Moore), an alcoholic British ex-pat is always there for him, but she’s not the most stabling of influences.

Only the growing interest of one of the strapping young lads that he teaches, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), challenges his growing assertion that his life cannot go on without Jim – perhaps now it’s more that life cannot go on as A Single Man.


It’s perhaps unfair to begin a review by commenting on the production design, but when the first-time director is fashion designer Tom Ford, it could, I hope, be forgiven. As you’d expect, everything from the clean brown lines of the apartment to the sharp tailoring of George’s suits is immaculately presented.

The story itself is slight, eked out to a feature length by Ford’s deliberately considered pace. Not much happens, but this isn’t a film about plot, but about character and Colin Firth delivers a repressed performance unlike any we’ve seen on screen for a long time. In a beautifully underplayed, Oscar-nominated performance, his movements – facial tweaks – or lack of them – betray loneliness, confusion, a life-time of pain being rebottled after a beautiful love affair. Rarely has so much emotion been released through such little acting.

The rest of the accent flipping cast (Brits Goode and Hoult playing Americans, with Moore having her best stab at an English accent) fit their roles well enough, although Goode doesn’t have much to do except sit and brood in flashback, while there’s little depth to Moore’s socialite.

As for Hoult’s flirtatious student, it’s the kind of thing that in the heterosexual world (such as Wonder Boys) might seem a little louche, but here, because it apparently helps to restore some faith in George’s life, we’re supposed to welcome a man entertaining lewd thoughts about a boy half his age.

In a clever directorial flourish, Ford – whose deliberately pallid colour scheme successfully betrays Firth’s emotional emptiness – ratchets up the colour saturation as his state of mind improves. There’s a sense in which it’s a visually obvious trick, but from a designer, it seems to be a fitting and successful way of bringing the worlds of film and design a little bit closer.