Holding The Man Movie

‘Holding the Man’ – a tearful review

The highly anticipated Holding the Man arrived in cinemas last week. My partner and I have been looking forward to seeing this quintessential Australian love story come alive on the big screen.

Holding the Man ticketsWe saw the movie at the Palace Verona in Paddington on Sunday afternoon, but it took us a few days to recover from the experience enough to be able to write about it.

The movie is beautiful, tender, touching and … brutal. The team involved had done an amazing screen adaptation. We both read the book, saw the stage-play, and made the fatal mistake of entering the cinema without tissues, thinking we would be able to manage our emotions. That was a flawed plan.

Tommy Murphy’s adaptation for the screen is simply marvellous, and builds on his previous work on the stage-play. Without doubt he was the right man for this project and we must be grateful for his unparalleled commitment to the story over the years.

The director, Neil Armfield has produced a universal masterpiece with this movie and it will without doubt become a legacy piece of his successful career.

I felt contractually obliged to ring John. I did it that night.

‘Mrs Caleo, can I speak to John please?’ She asked who was calling. I choked out my name.

‘Hi Tim.’ We sat in silence for a moment. ‘This is a nice surprise.’

‘That’s good. There is something I want to tell you.’

‘I’m all ears.’

‘You know this stupid game that Biscuit’s been playing? Today he said I have to drop you, and I don’t want to.’ Should I risk it? ‘I’m being serious.’ Maybe he doesn’t understand. ‘What I’m trying to say is I like you.’

‘That’s good.’

I was fumbling. ‘I really like you. I’ve liked you for some time.’

‘I like you too.’

‘Does this mean we’re going out together?’

‘You haven’t asked me yet.’

‘John Caleo, will you go round with me?’

‘Holding the Man’, Timothy Conigrave

The two lead actors, Ryan Corr and Craig Stott bring Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo back to life on the screen. Their performances are so brilliant, it makes the experience particularly brutal. Having to relive John being ravaged by HIV and watch Tim care for him and love him to that last harrowing, precious breath, while emotionally draining, is an experience unparalleled in beauty and love.

The funeral scene where Tim is referred to merely as a ‘friend’ of John, takes the heartbreak to a whole new level …

Father Wood asked if we could have a word in the garden. ‘I believe things between you and the family are pretty tense at the moment, particularly with Bob.’

‘He treats me like I’m not there. It’s like he’s trying to reclaim John, save him from the dirty poofter who corrupted him. All this stuff about not mentioning ‘gay’ or AIDS at the funeral.’

‘I want you to know that I will try my best to include you in the funeral. I’ll talk about you as his friend. Are you happy about that?’

‘He’s my husband, we’ve been together fifteen years.’

‘I understand, but you must understand there’ll be nothing gained by alienating his parents.’
‘Holding the Man’, Timothy Conigrave

Holding The Man BookTim and John would have turned 56 years old this year.

We may have lost these two beautiful and talented men to a tragic epidemic but, thanks to Timothy capturing their story for eternity, in a book-length love letter to John, they will both live on forever in literature, on stage and screen, and in our hearts to inspire us all. That’s true immortality.

We wondered if Timothy foresaw the significance of the story he was writing. We would like to think he did, and that’s why he willed himself to live long enough to finish his manuscript, passing away just a few days after completing the book.

Timothy wrote his book with a raw honesty. He portrayed himself frankly – a flawed man, an imperfect being, looking for love and meaning. He was one of us – all of us.

Timothy was also an activist and a leader, and the best way we can pay respect to Timothy and John’s memory is by continuing to fight for the acceptance and equality of the LGBTI community, including marriage equality.

The heartbreaking story of these star-crossed lovers, and many others like them, was the product of the culture they lived in, and may have had a very different ending if they lived in a society that fully accepted their love.

A pivotal scene from ‘Holding the Man’

‘Will you marry me?’ asked Tim way back in the 70s, a cross between a joke and a deep desire to be with John.

Long before LGBTI people spoke up for marriage equality in public, privately many of us desired to be able to show our love and commitment by marrying our partner.

It’s ironic many of those who oppose marriage equality spent a lifetime complaining about their perception of the LGBTI community being promiscuous, and lacking the commitment required for long-term relationships. They seem to conveniently ignore that a bigoted, homophobic society is not a suitable environment for committed, long-term relationships by the LGBTI community. Such relationships can only safely exist in a society that’s mature and accepting enough to afford normality and visibility.

These critical conditions for successful, long-term relationships were denied to the LGBTI community for a long time, and continue to be challenged. When the LGBTI community asks they be allowed to take part in the very institution designed to provide the legal and social framework for committed, long-term relationships, the same people now oppose marriage equality.

I guess the hardest thing is having so much love for you and it somehow not being returned. I develop crushes all the time, but that is just misdirected need for you. You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly.

Ci vedremo lassù, angelo.
‘Holding the Man’, Timothy Conigrave


  1. Ben Mathews

    Have watched the film 6 times in a month…..my brother, who was gay, passed away 5 weeks ago and the two have somehow got linked up,,,,,the sweetest, saddest, most loving gay film ive ever seen…is hard to put into words but previous comments that mention you greiving for Tim and John I can relate to. THe film, for me mixes up so many emotions it leaves me a wreck. Gonna get the book now.


  2. Enni

    Such an amazing movie. Like Prayers for Bobby, and the Harvey Milk movie, seeing this movie end in death struck my heart to a really dark place but it also made me realize how lucky I am to be living in a more LGBT friendly society. I hope Tim and John, and all other LGBT patriarchs are in heaven living and loving in paradise. Thank you for paving the way.


  3. Garry

    After watching the movie and then deciding to read the book It is hard for me to describe what I want to say in words. I go through my day thinking about Tim and John and tears still come down my face especially when I think of the last 30minutes of the movie I don’t know why I just do they are now in my mind a small part of my life. I have been with my partner for 24years and If he died I would miss him terribly. I make sure now when I leave for the day my last words to him are of kindness, love If he suddenly died and our last words were in hate, anger which can happen sometimes living with that as well as his death well I think you know what I am trying to say. It is a truly moving movie and book. Thankyou to the writer, producer cast and especially Ryan and Craig for doing this.
    Gay Proud and Happy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fletcher825

      Garry I have been searching the internet for a reaction to this incredible Book/Movie/Play that related to how I was feeling. Thankfully I have finally found someone who feel’s the same about Holding The Man! After watching the movie last week, and then rewatching it, then reading the book; I have just finished the book this evening. I feel really empty. How long did this last for you? Its been about half a year since your comment so you’re probably fine now, but how long did it take? I have cried every day since seeing it for the first time; it is extremely beautiful.

      Thanks, Fletcher.


      1. Garry

        Hi Fletcher. Tim and John will stay with me till my own death. I do have flash backs to some of the movie scenes I stop and reflect about what life is all about, even though I may not be thinking about the movie at the time. I know their story is not unique but it is a window into what a cruel and inhumane this disease was and still is. What is more sad is the hatred, the violence, the killings towards beautiful people on this planet because their different, all their doing is just living the life they were born to live.The Human Race is truly a beautiful thing????.


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