"But for all its stylistic flair, it’s Firth’s film - the most poignant moments come from his nuanced performance"
Tom Ford will be more familiar to the fashionistas out there than the film buffs as he’s the saviour of Gucci and a brand name in his own right. With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that his debut film, A Single Man, would be a triumph of style over substance.
But while the film is certainly polished to a high sheen, to say that it’s shallow would be to do an injustice to an achingly delicate, beautiful and intimate portrayal of a man’s grief.
George (Colin Firth) is an English Professor anguished by the death of his soul mate and partner Jim, who has been killed in a car accident. We follow him for one day eight months later as he goes about one day in his life in 1960s California, all the while calmly, almost ritualistically planning his own death.
But the day’s activities threaten to interrupt his planned suicide. He gives an uncharacteristically glum lecture about Aldous Huxley, is propositioned by a Spanish James Dean look-a-like and befriends one of his students (a spectacularly well-judged performance from Nicholas Hoult) who seems to see through the façade of normality he projects.
He also has dinner with an old friend (a vivaciously drunk Julianne Moore) a scene which brilliantly manages to convey the entire history of their relationship in the space of a few minutes.
But because of his new-found perspective gained by his own impending mortality, he begins to see things in fresh light.
A Single Man looks absolutely gorgeous; it’s almost heartbreakingly beautiful to look at thanks to some impeccable cinematography by Edward Grau and some incredible 1960s set design.
George for the most part is painted in a monochrome grey which emphasises his melancholy and ennui. But as the day progresses and he makes connections with people, we begin to see bright, clear colours – his happiness is bathed in a sun-drenched golden orange. It’s a subtle way of getting inside George’s head, a visual cue for a man creaking under the pressure of societal restraint.
But for all its stylistic flair, it’s Firth’s film - the most poignant moments come from his nuanced performance. A scene in which he receives the news of Jim’s death via telephone is a master class of acting - his descent from statesmanlike composure to harrowed grief in the space of a few seconds is as delicate and heartbreaking as any you’ll ever see.
It’s also wryly aware of its own melodrama and often shows a particularly British self-deprecation which prevents it ever from wallowing in self-pity.
Despite sounding like a glum downer, it’s actually a beautiful, exciting and moving film and a career-best performance from Colin Firth who more than deserves his Best Actor Oscar nomination.
A Single Man (12A) is released on February 12th