Mar 2, 2014

The Line of Beauty: Gay Dating in the 1980s

The BBC movie The Line of Beauty (2006) begins in 1983, the midst of the Reagan-Thatcher era of conservative retrenchment, as a young man named Nick Guest (Dan Stevens, right) goes to live with his school friend Toby and his sister Catherine.

Their father, Gerald Fedden, has just been elected a Conservative Member of Parliament, and they are all set to begin the privileged life of celebrity politicians, although they must hide their various problems: Toby's drug addiction, Catherine's mental illness, Gerald's philandering.

Sounds a lot like Brideshead Revisited, doesn't it?

Esconced in the conservative but scandal-laced household, Nick begins a secret gay life.  He dates the working class Leo (Don Gilet), who dumps him abruptly, and later dies of AIDS.

He dates Wani Ouradi (Alex Wyndham, below), the closeted heir to a supermarket chain, who is engaged to a woman and happy to keep their relationship a secret.  But Wani cruises constantly, even having sex with Jasper, Catherine's fiance.  Eventually Wani, too, becomes sick.

People occasionally discover that he is gay and react with disgust, but agree to keep his secret. Only Toby remains close. He begins using drugs to cope.

By 1987, the various scandals in the Fedden household have been revealed to the Press, and Gerald has no choice but to resign as MP.  He blames Nick for all of his problems, and kicks him out of the family that has been his own for four years.

I don't remember the 1980s being so desperate, at least in West Hollywood. We never used drugs, anonymous sexual encounters were frowned on, and only a few of our friends were personally affected by AIDS.

But I do remember the secrecy -- you simply did not tell heterosexuals.  You dropped pronouns; you lied about your weekend activities; you invented girlfriends. If they found out, you could expect disgust, yelling, excoriation, and then silence, as they cut off ties with you forever.