Tom Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man stars Colin Firth as George, a gay middle-aged man trying to get over the death of his long-term partner. The action plays out on what George intends to be the last day of his life and deals with his interactions with friends and strangers. The day is interspersed with flashbacks that deal with the fleeting memories George has of his time with his partner, memories that George does not want to become distant.
The flashbacks really add the extra gravitas needed to add poignancy to his last day. Seemingly meaningless encounters with the students at the school in which he works take on a whole new meaning. Cocooned in self-pity, George fails to see the affect his death would have on those around him. Step forward the excellent Nicholas Hoult in the role of Kenny, a student of George’s. Kenny embodies the film’s heart, by forming a bond with his teacher he makes George realise his importance outside of the enclosed world in which he had been living. The film is a journey of discovery, both for George and for the audience. George’s occasional voice-over pops in sporadically to help us along and gives us access to his carefully considered thoughts.
In essence, the whole film has been carefully considered, right down to the tiniest detail with the superb art direction bringing the 1962 setting to life without ever being invasive. Aesthetically the film is beautiful, Ford’s regular tinkering with the colour temperature to reflect George’s mood is delicately handled and never outstays its welcome. It’s tied together by some seamless editing from Joan Sobel that perfectly complements the films slow pace.
The movie ultimately belongs to Colin Firth. His performance encapsulates the film’s world. Like the film he is methodical in his portrayal right down to the finest point. His scene with Julianne Moore, who herself delivers yet another engaging turn, displays his character for what he is; quiet, observational and heart-broken.
As a first time director, Ford’s achievements are remarkable, to display such a sure hand and to offer such care and attention to the story’s re-telling is a fantastic accomplishment. Unfortunately for all the elegance in which the film is handled, the script could have done with tweaking. Occasionally scenes start to drag and a few passages of dialogue start to meander without furthering the narrative. All in all Ford the director appears to be a master of his craft first time out of the gate, Ford the writer still has a little way to go.