Man in an Orange Shirt
When Michael Berryman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is serving in the Second World War, he saves the life of a wounded man during battle. Later he learns that the man he saved was a former school friend, Thomas March (James McArdle), whom he shares an instant connection with. The two men begin a passionate affair, despite homosexuality being illegal at the time. For fear of being imprisoned and outlawed for being gay, Michael agrees to marry his lifelong friend Flora (Joanna Vanderham), who forces the two men apart. Seventy years later, Michael's grandson Adam (Julian Morris) struggles with his own sexuality and tries to come to terms with his identity and place in the world.
Unrequited and forbidden love is often the backdrop for many tragic love stories, but nothing is more cutting and heartbreaking than illegal love. Man in an Orange Shirt depicts heartbreakingly the tragedy faced by homosexual couples in the early 20th century when Britain's gross indecency laws made same-sex coupling illegal. Patrick Gale’s drama beautifully captures the tragedy of being gay in the post-war world and the struggles the gay community still faces today.
In her review for The Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson said, "It is easy to see why everyone in this drama is so angry. It should make us angry, too, at the outrageous unfairness of imprisoning gay men at a very recent time in Britain’s history." Man in an Orange Shirt does make you angry. It makes you angry and sad and ultimately disgusted because of the treatment of these characters. Michael and Thomas were forced to give up their passionate love simply because their society was intolerant of anything that differed from their way of living. But what makes you really angry is that this oppression and cruelty is still practiced today. Members of the LGBTQ community are still harassed and beaten and assaulted, and in some countries, laws are still in place banning homosexual relationships. It's despicable.
Man in an Orange Shirt beautifully brings to life the passion and love these two people have for one another, but in the same breath, tragically forces them apart. You experience first-hand the hurt and sorrow of their lifelong longing and their desperate desire to remain together forever. It makes you angry, but it also makes you desperately sad and wishful for nothing more than for them to spend the rest of their lives together. Gale's story grabs the viewer and forces them to sympathize with these characters that were tragically and unjustly torn apart.
Man in an Orange Shirt flourishes with its outstanding cast of actors. In particular, James McArdle as Thomas and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Michael capture the complexities and inevitable heartache of gay couples of the past. Jackson-Cohen beautifully depicts the unbearable tug-of-war Michael experience between wanting to be faithful to his true self and conforming to society's norms. His quiet, but powerful, performance captures the mental and physical strain society puts on gay individuals even today. Contrasty, McArdle's bold performance explores the consequences of being proud of your identity despite the suffocating hatred from the society surrounding him. McArdle's powerful performance illustrates the deep anger, sadness, unhappiness, and desperation had felt for the circumstances engulfing him.
On a technicality, because Man in an Orange Shirt spans only two short films, the pacing of the show seems far too accelerated. The program doesn’t allow the audience to fully settle in the grief of the character’s pain before the scene swiftly moves the story along. More time spent lingering on an emotional moment would have allowed the audience to feel the full range of sadness, despair, anger, and heartbreak for these unfortunate characters.
Man in an Orange Shirt is a powerful and provoking programming that is essential viewing to understand the oppression and discrimination faced by a community who want nothing more than to just love passionately.