TV Review: Man in an Orange Shirt

I end up a little disappointed after an excellent first half of Man in an Orange Shirt

“You didn’t think we could set up home together like man and wife?”

I wanted to love Man in an Orange Shirt , I really did. A BBC two-part mini-series from 2017, it was written by Patrick Gale using elements from his own family history. And featuring a cast that is both suitably impressive -James McArdle, Vanessa Redgrave – and pretty – newcomers to me Julian Morris and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

The first half is by far the stronger. Set in the 1940s, old schoolmates Michael and Thomas find themselves stationed together in WWII Italy. An unexpected connection blooms between the pair and once war is over, Michael searches out Thomas and they spend a blissful weekend together. Only trouble is, Michael also has to eventually reunite with his fiancée too.

McArdle’s Thomas and Jackson-Cohen’s Michael depict a beautifully nuanced relationship, battling the strength of their passion against an overwhelming societal prejudice. And as the third wheel, Joanna Vanderham’s Flora, Michael’s wife, adds her own thwarted love into the mix, exacerbated by her eventual discovery of her husband’s proclivities.

The second part of the story takes place in the present day as Flora’s grandson Adam deals with his own, different, struggles with being a gay man. Addicted to Grindr hook-ups, not out to his grandmother, his unsettled existence is ostensibly connected to that of his forebear. Except it doesn’t ever ring with anything like the same kind of resonance.

And as Michael Samuels’ direction tells these stories in a linear fashion, the interweaving feels nominal, adding little that elevates the materials. The way the tale unfolds isn’t unaffecting – Morris and Redgrave find their own touching connection – but David Gyasi’s Steve, the one who might change Adam, isn’t given anywhere near enough room to flesh out his character. Stick with the first half I think.

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