Get ready for a treat. Writer Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Bridget Jones’ Diary) has adapted Alan Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize winning novel, The Line of Beauty, as a sumptuous three-part television drama.
Published in 2004, the novel personalised life in Thatcher’s 1980s Britain through the eyes of a young homosexual, Nick Guest (Dan Stevens). It was a period characterised by trade union wars, unemployment, the IRA, the Falklands, the Cold War and, unmistakably, the advent of HIV/AIDS.
But for Oxford grad Nick, caught up in upper class excess, it is a hedonistic time. Rooming with the rich family of a Tory politician, he is surrounded by elegant paintings, red wine, dinner parties, English estates and piano concertos. With his dashing looks and locks to rival Michaelangelo’s David, everyone loves Nick. But he loves Toby Fedden (Oliver Coleman), the family’s number one son, at least initially.
If America serialised the 80s (and 70s) in the Tales of the City franchise, this may well stand as the equivalent British commentary, albeit one far more reserved and refined. British performers necessarily convey much with subtext, and The Line of Beauty is indeed underscored by lies and betrayals.
Nick scoffs at the Fedden family’s inability to live up to impossible standards (hiding everything from affairs to self-mutilation). Frankly, this could have been subtitled Keeping Up Appearances.
His homosexuality is barely tolerated by his hosts, and only when well hidden; their bipolar daughter, Cat (Hayley Attwell) is the only one to accept him.
He falls hopelessly for Wani (Alex Wyndham), an attractive outwardly-heterosexual Lebanese family friend. In erotically-charged scenes of discreet sex, Wani and Nick make love behind closed doors. But for Nick the double-life becomes increasingly vexatious. He escapes his dysfunctional, materialistic abode via gay bars, beats and cocaine.
Flavouring the era is the music of New Order, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and, in an artily-shot swimming hole sequence, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Power of Love’.
The title refers to the art world’s ‘serpentine’ line, with which a painter’s strokes convey more liveliness than stagnant, parallel lines. Indeed while Thatcher’s greedy upper classes denied hypocrisy, enforced Section 28 (oddly absent from the screenplay) and ignored a health crisis, the line of beauty doubles as a line in the sand.
There is much to enjoy from this richly textured coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of a ruthless decade.