'A Single Man', based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, is about circumstance as much as anything else. It's about how it can cripple you, how in a moment your changing circumstance can make you view the world very differently and how you just can't always control the circumstance that you find yourself in, no matter how great the effort.
George Falconer (Firth) is an English professor living in California in the 1960s. He could be said to live an average life. Liked by his colleagues and the staff in his local bank, easily infuriated by the neighbours' children and totally devoted to his partner Jim (Goode), he is the kind of everyman that easily blends into the background of life, in spite of whatever intelligence and charm he brings to bear on life. But circumstances can change everything in a heartbeat.
On the particular day we meet George, he is a broken man. And on this one day his actions cause him to stand out from the crowd. The day is not significant to anyone else. Only George's own intentions mark it as a day apart from any other.
It is during this day that we watch George going about his daily business, giving an alternative lecture to his class, paying compliments to the office staff at his school, being friendlier than usual to his neighbours and savouring some time with his eccentric best friend Charley (Moore). It's also the day that student Kenny (Hoult) decides to seek him out at every opportunity, eager to get to know him better, sensing that this day is somehow significant and that some kind of intervention, however futile, must be attempted.
George is a man who is suffocating. He is consumed with grief (while not free to grieve aloud), and also the guilt of living a normal life, after love. We see him as virtually two different people - the George presented to the public, and often his friends, and the George who wants to hide away from the outside world. Colin Firth is at his very best here, capturing both aspects of his character with comfortable ease, igniting the highs and the lows with real emotion. Nicholas Hoult (of 'About A Boy' and 'Skins' fame) is also worthy of mention for his portrayal of wide-eyed, infatuated student Kenny.
'A Single Man' is sad yet quite beautiful. It makes you believe in the power of true love and its potential for devastation, without the necessity for mawkish happy-ever-afters. And, with fashion designer Tom Ford at the helm, there is a wonderful emphasis on visual beauty here, from scenes lit by searing orange sun to the architecture of the day. The look and feel of the film is also true to its time-setting, adding a beautiful authenticity to the story.
Simple, direct and very moving.