TV review: Man in an Orange Shirt, BBC Two (4 stars)

TV review: Man in an Orange Shirt, BBC Two

Beautifully made love story written by novelist Patrick Gale for BBC's Gay Britannia season

It's shocking that just 50 years ago homosexuality was illegal in the UK. The change in legislation of 1967 didn't come close to granting equal rights but it was a landmark ruling and an important first step. The BBC is marking the 50th anniversary with Gay Britannia, a series of programmes that highlight how far we've come and the continued struggle for equality. It's sad to say it feels particularly timely in the current political climate with the rise of the right and homophobia across parts of Europe, Russia, Africa and America, while at home the Tories are jumping into bed with the DUP in a desperate bid to cling to power.

Man in an Orange Shirt tells two love stories. Captain Michael Berryman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and artist Thomas March (James McArdle) meet amongst the blood and chaos of the trenches in WWII. There's an instant spark and they start a tentative affair as they recuperate in hospital. As the war ends they head for the quiet and relative peace of the countryside and fall deeply in love. Living in fear of persecution and prosecution, this is a time when their relationship was a crime. Repressing and fighting his emotions Berryman attempts to 'conform' and fake his way through a relationship with Flora (Joanna Vanderham).

The opening episode has the pace and flow of a period drama. We expect the second half, set in 2004 (and starring Vanessa Redgrave), will have more bite tackling the reality of life as a gay man in modern Britain.

Written by novelist Patrick Gale (Kansas in August / Tree Surgery for Beginners / Rough Music) Man in an Orange Shirt is a sensitive love story inspired by events in his own family. It's a universal tale as Gale himself states: 'I hope this is much more than just a drama about gay men and their difficulties. I hope that its two love stories will touch people simply as love stories.' He'll be pleased to know he succeeded.

Despite there being gay characters in most of the major soaps, and shows like Queer as Folk, Cucumber and Transparent, there's a far larger debate about LGBT representation on television. It's great the BBC is celebrating such an important moment in the history of gay rights (it should also be pointed out they are not alone, Channel 4 is also running their own 50 Shades of Gay season) but there should be more programmes like Man in an Orange Shirt without any need to group them under a Gay Britannia banner. But as it stands MOS is a beautifully made, thoughtful drama with solid performances from the entire cast.

Man in an Orange Shirt starts on BBC Two, Mon 31 Jul, 9pm.

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