This 2003 from the same writer and director as ‘Patrik, Age 1.5’ is a lot of fun. It tells the story of two children who have to travel across Sweden because their parents have split. Martin has to fly to the Norwegian border and Julia has to go to Malmo. At the airport they meet and discover they have an amazing physical similarity. Rather than go on a journey they are dreading they swap places and head off to each other’s destination.
Martin pretends to be a girl and Julia becomes Martin. Amanda Davin plays both roles but the character of each is distinct; Julia is more outgoing than Martin. However, their respective parents do not notice the swap and the comedy of the film comes from the difficult situations each child finds him/herself in when confronted with the realities of the other. Martin disguised as Julia is not best pleased to discover he has to be a bridesmaid and Julia has to find a cover story when, disguised as Martin, she is discovered in girls’ pants.
Further gender issues are explored in the film. Martin is a musical prodigy but his father wants an athlete for a son. Julia is more of a tomboy but her mother wants a ladylike and refined daughter. Negotiating the borders of identity the film very cleverly shows the effect expectations of others have on people.
‘Tur och Retur’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This 2008 Swedish film from writer- director Ella Lemhagen is a lot of fun. Tom Ljungman, who also starred in the television drama ‘The Half Hidden’ made an impression as the 15 year old who needs a family and finds himself in the care of a gay couple. His views on their lifestyle are clear to see and are only matched by the shock of Sven and Goran who believed that the child they would adopt would be one and a half years old.
Around the story we see the gay couple cope with the attitudes to their arrival of their neighbours, not everyone is keen to have a gay doctor. Patrik’s arrival also places a strain on the couple and we see how Goran, played by Gustaf Skarsgard, copes with the competing demands on him.
There is a happy ending, this is a comedy after all, but the sweet last scene is earned through the accuracy of the feelings portrayed. For both Patrik and Goran, understanding is hard earned and while the administrative error can be put right, the search for understanding takes longer.
Tom Ljungman makes the biggest impression as a troubled young man fighting to stay tough in the face of inner turmoil.
‘Patrik, Age 1.5’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Having written about ‘Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves’ I was reminded of an earlier television drama I watched many years ago. I went back to it and discovered that the same writer, Jonas Gardell, was responsible for creating what I considered to be a thought provoking and excellent work. Interestingly, the drama also includes an exploration of religion and sexuality.
‘The Half Hidden’ is a complex work, though. There are four episodes, each one traces the lives of four families but it is not as simple as a family per episode. Instead, we follow four separate stories over the course of many years and it is only towards the end of the final episode that we discover how the lives of all the people are connected.
The drama also shows us the complexity of human beings. The young skinhead who shows a violent side to the world is also a loving older brother and a frustrated son. The religious family follow Christian principles but struggle to show each other human love. The isolated boy, stuck in his bedroom, has an online life where he discovers the boy of his dreams and longs to meet up with him but he rejects the earnest efforts of his parents to accept him. Then there is the stressed couple trying to project a lifestyle that is beyond their means. All these stories intersect and inform each other so that when the drama reaches its denouement, we understand the jump between timescales and the connection between the themes.
Throughout it all, Jonas Gardell shows us that life is fragile and families can be broken at any moment. Those we have lost stay in the shadows and continue to affect the living.
It is well worth investing the time in ‘The Half Hidden’. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This three part television drama from Sweden, made in 2012 broadcast by the BBC in 2013, took me back. Set in the early 80s, it tells the story of a young man Rasmus who moves to Stockholm from his country home after graduating from his high school. In the city, he intends to find the gay community and find the acceptance that alluded him back home.
He discovers a group of young friends who welcome him into the fold but this is the time of AIDs and, as the story develops, we find out more about the effect of the disease on the young men. Paul is the centre of the group. His flamboyance and love of life ensures all around him have a good time.
Into this circle comes Benjamin, a religious person who first meets Paul while trying to evangelise. He is conflicted about his own sexuality, or rather tries to understand his own sexual yearnings while living within the church. When Rasmus and Benjamin meet they develop a relationship which turns into love.
That love is needed in the time of AIDS and the second and third episodes show what happens to their relationship when the disease becomes personal.
The title is spoken by one nurse to another in an early scene showing the fear that existed at the time. The drama was based on a trilogy of novels by Swedish writer Jonas Gardell. I recently heard a radio play by the same writer covering similar ground; a teenage boy, part of the church and sincere in his faith goes to his pastor for support when he realises he is attracted to other boys. The answer he gets makes it clear the teachings of the church come first. His play, ‘Wild is the Wind’ reminded me of the potency of his television drama.
‘Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
In London so I visited the National Portrait Gallery for what is now an annual pilgrimage to the Taylor Wessing Photographic exhibition. There is a lot of fun to be had in deciding which photographs I would have selected as the winners. It is rare that my choices match the actual winners but I have to accept that I am not the expert.
The photo I found the most striking was of a young male dancer waiting for an audition. The intensity of his focus as he prepares is impressive and is captured in this shot which shows him looking down. In taking her photograph moments before the audition, something of the jeopardy of the enterprise is expressed, both for the dancer and the photographer.
The photographer is Sophie Harris- Taylor and, like many of the photographs in this exhibition, the picture is one of a series. I often want to see the rest of the photographs but I understand it would be impractical to display them all.
This novel by Lisa Williamson treads a fine line between the ‘issues’ and the ‘feelgood’ on its way to an ending that is positive, if not completely happy. The result is a triumph of a book that is uplifting without being misleading about the challenges faced by many young people who think themselves different from the norm.
David is a fifteen year old secondary school student who knows he is different. His parents are convinced he is gay and, like the understanding parents they are, wait patiently for him to be ready to come out. Yet, David is straight not gay. It is true he fancies a boy in the year above but David also thinks he is a girl trapped in a body that is wrong.
His good friends, Felix and Essie support him and keep his secret but they, too, don’t fit the norm of their school. When they become an item, David feels more like an outsider. But then there is Leo, the enigmatic boy who has transferred into the school because of an incident at his last school. Leo is letting on what that was and the rumours suggest that he is a boy best avoided. This suits Leo but David finds himself intrigued and then in need of Leo’s help. When he gets it, the two become allies; Leo isn’t ready for friendship. He knows the world can be unforgiving and keeping himself to himself is about survival.
In getting to know Leo, David finds the courage to act on his own life and, in the final third of the book, we see a young person taking her fate in her own hands. Parents, friends, peers at school all have opinions on her life and they feel free to express them. As David moves closer to the person she wants to be we see how important strength and resilience are for young people.
‘The Art of Being Normal’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I remember fondly this television series from the 70s. It was an age when television for children involved quite complex ideas as well as good adventures. In this series, Murray Dale plays Dominic the same character he played in ‘Boy Dominic’ but now he is older and a sea cadet at a naval academy, ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The earlier series was episodic in nature; there was a different story in each programme with a background on-going story of Dominic’s father’s quest to return home after a ship wreck. In this series, there is one central story which sends Dominic away from the academy and in search of the killers of his parents. His mother and father were attacked by robbers who believed they were in possession of a treasure.
I thought Murray Dale would go on to have a long career in acting but this was the end of the road for him in this particular sphere. I believe he continued a career in film but in production rather than performing even though there was brief time when he was part of a musical group with his brother.
The cast of this series includes heavyweights such as Thorley Walters, John Hallam and Gordon Gostelow. Richard Todd reprised his role as Dominic’s father for the first episode.
‘Dominic’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?