The other night we watched what I can honestly say was not just one of the best television dramas, but possibly one of the best films I have seen in a long time!
Christopher And His Kind, starring "Dr Who" Matt Smith as that marvellously waspish old queen Christopher Isherwood (the man whose Berlin Stories eventually evolved into my all-time favourite movie Cabaret), delved into the decadent world of 1930s Weimar Germany with relish, as posh boys satisfy their deepest gay urges against an ever-darkening political background.
"I could say I went because of what was happening politically," he said."But in fact I went because of the boys."The atmospheric beauty of the city against which this delicious man-seeking-man action takes place is brilliantly described thus by Mark Smith writing in Scottish newspaper The Herald:
"[Berlin is] a city made from shadows and smoke and sex... suddenly, the smoke clears and we see the small print - red lips on a cigarette, thin fingers on a thigh - and the nasty details too - jackboots on cobbles and the pages of books turning black in a fire."Never shirking from the hedonistic appeal of Berlin to gay men in that era, the sheer delight that crosses Christopher's face when his close friend W.H Auden (the excellently cast Pip Carter) first takes him the wall-to-wall totty club Cosy Corner is a joy to behold, and the enthusiasm with which he embraces his freedom to shag rough trade ("rampant hetters on the make", as Auden cheerfully describes) is suitably demonstrated in some rather tasty bedroom (and outdoor!) scenes. He actually manages to fall in love with some of them...
All this horizontal shenanigans is complemented by the array of divinely odd characters Christopher encounters during his time at the boarding-house-cum-bordello run by dotty old Fraulein Thurau (Facinating Aida's Issy van Randwick). These include the wonderfully pervy bewigged Mr Hamilton (Toby Jones), various prostitutes and, best of all, the tarty posh-girl-gone-bad nightclub singer Jean Ross (brilliantly portrayed by Imogen Poots, right down to her cracked Judi Dench-style singing voice) - with her doomed attempts to make it big in Hollywood, and of course the inevitable abortion, the blueprint for Sally Bowles.
Inevitably all these characters find themselves, as they did when fleeing their cold unemotional families to embrace the fleshly delights of Berlin, once more on the run (this time from the horrifyingly speedy rise of Nazi brutality). Christopher, as the last to leave, witnesses the demonisation of the Jews and the burning of the books, yet only slowly realises that the finger is begining to point at him and "his kind".
Only when his attempt to extricate his lover Heinz from this stiflingly threatening situation fails does he begin to realise that his own selfishness and detachment from everything that is happening around him has taken a potentially deadly toll...
Auden and Isherwood in Berlin
This play/film is a tour-de-force of acting. I revelled in every little nuance of Christopher's soi disant pretence to be merely an "observer" rather than participant, Jean's rejection of conventional society and revulsion at what she sees happening to her adopted country (and her later appearance as a luvvie Communist leafletting the teashops of Kensington), and Auden's world-weariness as he witnesses his former lover clashing headlong into the dangerously hedonistic world he himself had grown out of: "The only cause you really care about, Christopher, is yourself." Christopher's dreadful mother (played with excoriating relish by Lindsay Duncan) and over-protected brother are superbly portrayed as the evidence of why he really needed to escape.
The story leaves us - as of course Isherwood's own Berlin Stories do - with a lot of "unfinished business". The sad (much later) reconciliation, and ultimate rejection, of Heinz is served up as a final example of just why Christopher Isherwood remains a largely unsympathetic character in the annals of gay history. [Yet in truth the real-life Heinz (by the 1950s already married with a family) was so shocked that his part in the most poignant gay love story of pre-war Germany was revealed in such detail in Christopher's books that he cut all ties with the author forever.]
You will enjoy this! I know you will...
Christopher And His Kind on the BBC website
To be continued..?
You can read more about what happened next in Christopher Isherwood's life as he is featured as the latest exhibit in the Dolores Delargo Towers Museum of Camp!