Unexpectedly emotional, Men Up tells the gorgeous story of the first Viagra trials
“Why can’t you just pee out of it and be happy”
I wasn’t expecting to cry in Men Up but crikey, I welled up on several occasions. Written by Matthew Barry, it tells the story of the first ever clinical trials for the drug that would become known as Viagra, which took place in a Swansea hospital in 1994. It takes all the sniggering humour out of the deeply emotive subject of impotence and examines the impact that sex – or lack thereof – can have on even the closest of relationships.
Aneurin Barnard plays Dr Dylan Pearce whose work in the field of impotence means he’s ideal to lead the initial trial for this potential wonder pill but the men he is working with have a minefield of complications to wade through. Diabetes may be the medical diagnosis for many of them but this is interconnected with all sorts of social and emotional issues – pervasive notions of masculinity and narrow views of sexuality as guilty as anything.
So over 90 minutes, there’s a gentle unpicking of all of this, as five middle-aged Welsh men go through taking pills and placebos, waiting to see if the medication might actually work, and dealing with the consequences if it does (or doesn’t). Iwan Rheon and Alexandra Roach are almost unbearably moving as Meurig and Ffion, his reticence to talk at all leading her to believe it is the double mastectomy she’s had to endure that is the problem in the bedroom.
Similarly, Steffan Rhodri and Lisa Palfrey are adorably sweet as Colin and Teresa, both widowed and grappling with the idea of moving their relationship from phone calls to IRL, all-encompassing grief being the stumbling block to tenderly remove. There’s also joy in the friendship that develops amongst the chaps, lifesaving in some respects, and sadness too that Tommy’s (Paul Rhys) homosexuality means that he has to lie to take part in the trial and never quite integrates with the others in the same way. A beautiful piece of television.