This past week, PJ and I watched the BBC miniseries, The Line of Beauty, adapted from Alan Hollingshurst’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the novel (yet), but I liked the miniseries quite a lot.
Beginning in 1983, it follows Nick, played by Dan Stevens, a recent graduate of Oxford, as he moves in with the family of one of his college friends, Toby Fedden, played by Oliver Coleman (pictured on the left below). Toby’s family is wealthy and politically well connected, especially since Toby father, Gerald, played by Tim McInnerny, is a Tory MP. The plot takes place over four years, a period bookmarked by two elections, both of which return Margaret Thatcher to the government.
Nick (pictured in the middle above) is a working-class aesthete. His father is an antiques dealer, and Nick has absorbed his knowledge of art, furniture, and aesthetics, and then studied literature at the university, all of which helps him find a place among the wealthy politicos of his new environment. Nick is also gay, a fact that is conveniently ignored by most of his new found family and their friends.
Since Toby is beautiful but straight and soon engaged to be married, Nick is forced to turn his sexual interest elsewhere. At the urging of Toby’s manic-depressive sister, Catherine, Nick answers a personal ad and meets up with Leo. Toby’s hobnobbing with England’s conservative elite stands in marked contrast to his furtive sex with Leo, who is black and working class. Not surprisingly, their relationship doesn’t last long.
But its demise leaves Nick in a precarious situation: how to find sexual partners among his wealthy friends in an age in which AIDS is increasingly threatening the gay male population. The tensions between Nick’s sexuality, the AIDS crisis, the Fedden family’s personal and professional indiscretions, and the Thatcher government’s policies comes to a head in the third act, when the consequences of being in the closet, political corruption, and private scandal all collide in one cataclysmic event.