Film watch: men kissing men

As furors break out here and there over same-sex kisses in the media (especially in ads) and also in real life (in public places) — disgusting! THINK OF THE CHILDREN! get that out of my sight! — I move to celebrate them. Especially men kissing men, an act that enrages a fair number of people, apparently because they have been conditioned to view it as the functional equivalent of two sweaty naked men fucking. I view it as the functional equivalent of a man and woman kissing: an act of romantic connection with a spicy tang of sexual attraction (but no more)

And so I come to two recent British films viewed on Netflix: The Pass (Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene as footballers) and God’s Own Country (Josh O’Connor and Alec Secăreanu as Yorkshire sheep farmers). Both are fraught love stories set in intensely masculine working-class social worlds. With wonderful performances. And man-on-man kissing, both touching and moving.

The Pass. From Wikipedia:

(#1) A poster for the movie (Tovey on left, Kene on right), showing the incipient first kiss

The Pass is a 2016 film starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene. It was directed by Ben A. Williams, based on a play by John Donnelly. The film deals with the issue of a homosexual relationship between two English football players, and how their lives unfold over the course of a decade.

Nineteen-year-olds Jason and Ade have been in the Academy of a famous London football club since they were eight years old. It’s the night before their first-ever game for the first team — a Champions League match — and they’re in a hotel room in Romania. They should be sleeping, but they’re over-excited. They skip, fight, mock each other, prepare their kit, watch a teammate’s sex tape. And then, out of nowhere, one of them kisses the other. The impact of this ‘pass’ reverberates through the next ten years of their lives — a decade of fame and failure, secrets and lies, in a sporting world where image is everything

Kene and Tovey at the premiere:


(#2) Note Tovey’s ears; ears are a theme in this posting

Tovey (born in 1981) is an old acquaintance on this blog; my 8/21/17 posting “Angels in Palo Alto” has a section on him. He played Joe Pitt in the National Theatre Ensemble production of Angels in America I wrote about there. Of the four men in this posting, he’s the gay one.

His performance as Jason in The Pass is extraordinary: intensely physical, always in action, one emotion after another flickering across his face, showing off his body (NSFW warning!) —

(#3) Jason in the middle of a monologue

keeping up a rain of talk, challenging Ade, ragging him, reminiscing (both players reel off tiny details of matches from years ago), bragging about his working-class toughness and his top-footballer status, putting down faggots, (in the later scenes) popping pills and pouring down drink. Fending off repose, connection, affection. Until the end, when they embrace and kiss again and he falls asleep wrapped around Ade in bed.

Ade is the steady one, long ago resigned to a simple life outside of football and (now) comfortable with his homosexuality.

Kene’s Wikipedia page is essentially a long list of the roles he’s played and the plays he’s had produced, but from a 2/25/13 Guardian interview by Maddy Costa, we learn that he was born in Laos, Nigeria, in 1987; his parents emigrated to London [Hackney, in inner London] in 1991. From the interview:

Like many first-generation Londoners, he experienced a divided sense of nationality. “At home, I’m very Nigerian. You’ll hear Nigerian music, my parents speak in Igbo, my mum’s got her wrap on and cooks Nigerian food. Then I leave the house and I’m Arinze, the British kid.” It’s a division that is embedded in his plays: the dialogue is very London, but the storytelling, he explains, is more influenced by the structure of African folk stories, particularly the way a narrative isn’t resolved but remains open-ended.

He is also much inspired by the writing of Langston Hughes, a key figure in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. “You can tell he loves black people. He understands that there is a lot out there saying you shouldn’t like yourself – and he writes because he wants us to love ourselves.”

Kene in character in his own play Misty in 2018:

(#4) In principle SFW, but undeniably hot

God’s Own Country. The Pass is an entirely indoor drama, set in hotel rooms; much of God’s Own Country takes place in farm buildings or out on the stark Yorkshire landscape. From Wikipedia:

(#5) O’Connor (left) and Secăreanu (right)

God’s Own Country is a 2017 British drama film written and directed by Francis Lee in his feature directorial debut. The film stars Josh O’Connor and Alec Secăreanu. The plot follows a young sheep farmer [Johnny Saxby] in Yorkshire [trying to hold the farm together after his father has a stroke] whose life is transformed by a Romanian migrant worker [Gheorghe Ionescu, who helps him rescue the farm and also becomes his secret lover].

… The Sundance Film Festival’s listing for God’s Own Country says that “you can smell the mud in this movie” [and the muck and the blood and more beyond that] while also describing Francis Lee as a major new talent and the film as “one not to be missed.” Peter Bradshaw, writing in The Guardian, gave the film four stars out of five. Bradshaw described the film as “an almost, but not quite a Dales Brokeback,” and also as a “very British love story, bursting at the seams with unspoken emotions, unvoiced fears about the future, and a readiness to displace every emotion into hard physical work”.

Here are the men, Gheorghe on top, in their incipient kiss:

(#6) The match to #1

And then the match to #2:

(#7) O’Connor and Secăreanu; now it’s O’Connor’s ears

From Wikipedia:

Josh O’Connor (born 20 May 1990) is a British actor. He is known for his portrayal of Johnny Saxby in the 2017 film God’s Own Country, directed by Francis Lee, for which he won a British Independent Film Award for Best Actor, and for his portrayal of Lawrence Durrell in the ITV TV series The Durrells. He is also appearing as Marius in BBC One’s miniseries of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables.

O’Connor was born in Southampton, United Kingdom. He is a grandson of the British sculptor, John Bunting, and a descendant of the Bunting Tea dynasty.  He trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

And then his next role, which (among other things) takes advantage of his ears, as reported in W Magazine‘s  “The Crown Very Flatteringly Casts Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles” by Marissa G. Muller on 7/16/18:

(#8) Well, the young Prince Charles

And then, from Wikipedia:

Alexandru “Alec” Secăreanu (born 4 December 1984 in Bucharest) is a Romanian actor.

… After appearing in a number of Romanian films, 2017 brought Secăreanu his first English-language role in director Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. [Secăreanu lives, and mostly acts, in Bucharest.]

(A note on ages. The four men above are distributed over 10 years, at 3-year intervals: Tovey born in 1981, Secăreanu in 1984, Kene in 1987, and O’Connor in 1990. So the men in each kissing couple are 6 years apart: Tovey 6 years older than Kene, Secăreanu 6 years older than O’Connor. Though the characters in each couple are supposed to be very nearly the same age.)

It was 1971 when Peter Finch and Murray Head brought us the first man-on-man kiss to catch serious attention in an English-language film (in Sunday Bloody Sunday), and that was a Very Big Thing. Things have moved, but slowly, since then, and even now, films like The Pass and God’s Own Country are marketed primarily to gay audiences. Still, there’s been Brokeback Mountain and some other films, and Glee and some other tv shows (though it took forever for Will & Grace to get around to letting Will kiss another man). But same-sex kisses are still edgy things, far from the everyday, probably needing to be shielded from children. Maybe in another 48 years that will no longer be so.


One Response to “Film watch: men kissing men”

  1. [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at two recent British films centering on displays of same-sex male attraction, The Pass and […]

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