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By Phil Hall | June 4, 2007

This BBC production of David Leavitt’s best-seller created a minor brouhaha in 1991 because no American producer wanted to handle the book’s frank and provocative gay subject matter. Today, however, the film seems like a dull and immature endeavor.

The academician Owen (a glumly miscast Brian Cox) furtively sneaks around London’s porno theaters in a vain attempt to experience a gay connection. His wife Rose (Eileen Atkins) is more concerned with the rapidly approaching termination of their lease that she doesn’t notice Owen is acting a little odd. Their adult son Philip (Angus Macfayden) announces his homosexuality to them when he falls in love with an artist (Corey Parker), only to have the relation crumble after he comes out.

The problem is that the film is split between two personalities fighting for emotional control. There is the sedate British-style melodrama (complete with endless Pinteresque pauses and servings of tea), and then there is Leavitt’s original New York-centric story with its melodramatic and obnoxious speeches. Ultimately, neither personality wins.

Even the film’s gay sex sequences, which were considered daring in 1991, seem painfully tame today (an excess of shadowing literally hides everything, making it difficult to determine what, if anything, is happening).

Outside of the brief yet jolly surprise of an unbilled Sir Ralph Richardson as the gregarious recipient of a wrong number phone call, the film is totally bereft of life and energy. Students tracing the history of gay cinema may wish to revisit this strictly for curio research purposes, but otherwise it is hard to imagine anyone being interested in this tepid, inert offering.

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