"Man in an Orange Shirt" on Masterpiece
CET and ThinkTV are celebrating Pride Month with the premiere of Man in an Orange Shirt Sunday, June 17, at 9pm. This drama follows two love stories, 60 years apart, that chart the changes and challenges in gay lives in England — from the era of jail terms to the onset of dating apps.
The story is scripted by bestselling novelist Patrick Gale (A Place Called Winter) and the cast includes Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave (Julia), Joanna Vanderham (The Paradise), Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey), Julian Sands (A Room with a View), Frances de la Tour (The Collection), Adrian Schiller (Victoria, Beauty and the Beast), and Joanna David (Rebecca). Playing the star-crossed lovers are Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Mr. Selfridge), James McArdle (Salting the Battlefield), Julian Morris (Little Women), and David Gyasi (Interstellar).
The plot opens on the Italian front near the end of World War II. British Captain Michael Berryman (Jackson-Cohen) saves the life of a wounded fellow officer and recognizes him as Thomas March (McArdle), an old schoolmate, now serving as an official war artist. Though engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Flora (Vanderham), Michael feels a powerful attraction to Thomas, who feels the same way. After the artist’s recuperation, the two share a brief, passionate encounter before parting. With the war over, Michael looks up Thomas in London, and they spend a liberating, amorous weekend at Michael’s rundown country cottage. There, Thomas sketches Michael for a painting that will become “Man in an Orange Shirt.”
In an era when homosexuality in England was punished by prison, there is no hope of living together. Furthermore, Michael feels honor-bound to marry Flora, and he asks Thomas to be his best man. This sets the stage for a turbulent marriage, not least because Flora suspects nothing about her fiancé’s sexual preference.
The second half of the drama skips two generations to the present day. Michael and Thomas have died, and Flora (Redgrave) keeps house with her grandson, Adam (Morris), a young veterinarian active in London’s gay hookup scene — a subject Flora carefully avoids. Into Adam’s restless life comes Steve (Gyasi), an architect eager for a stable relationship and intrigued by the challenge of fixing up the cottage that Adam has been given by Flora — the same place where Michael and Thomas spent their idyllic weekend six decades earlier. The times change, the laws change, the technology changes (as illustrated by Adam’s addiction to dating apps), but the problem of love, commitment, and acceptance is as persistent and formidable as ever.
Man in an Orange Shirt was broadcast to wide acclaim in the UK in 2017 for the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality. The Telegraph (London) praised the drama as “a well-crafted and moving dialogue between past and present.” The Guardian (London) wrote, “Man in an Orange Shirt does a beautiful job of showing the consequences of repression for all during this time of upheaval.” And The Mail on Sunday (London) proclaimed “Vanessa Redgrave is a magnificent standout.”