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In 1993, the film Philadelphia was released – starring (and earning an Oscar win for) Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, the film was classed as groundbreaking for it’s storyline about a gay lawyer with AIDS and having to battle the stigma prejudice associated with the disease. I actually loved that film and saw it twice at the cinema within one week. However, a full eight years earlier, there was An Early Frost a made-for-television movie about a gay lawyer with AIDS, having to deal with the stigma and fear surrounding the disease…starring Aidan Quinn as Michael, with Geena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara as his parents, who have very different attitudes towards his illness, and Sylvia Sidney as his grandmother.

An Early Frost was obviously made on a fairly low budget, and watching it 34 years later, in terms of therapies and treatments available, it’s clearly very dated. But while the world is more informed about AIDS and the way it is transmitted, there is still a lot of prejudice towards the disease, and this film is still very relevant. Scenes where the ambulance drivers refuse to take Michael in their vehicle or where nurses refuse to enter his hospital room to give him his meals are thankfully a thing of the past, but as I watched this film I remembered the special assemblies which we had at school when I was about 13, telling us about AIDS and what was known of it (which was little at the time). The callous actions of some of the people in this film seem awful with hindsight, but people were terrified. I remember going on holiday abroad with my parents and another lady at the hotel would not get into the swimming pool because she was worried about catching AIDS.

Anyway, this film – the cast were all excellent just as you would expect. There were a couple of ‘lifetime movie’ dramatic scenes, but overall this was played with just the right note. Michael’s parents do not even know he is gay, so he is faced with not only revealing his homosexuality but also his illness in one fell swoop. His partner Peter (D.W. Moffett) has had to cope with being Michael’s secret and also knowing that he may have been the one who infected Michael.

I think this film is important not just for Michael’s personal story, but also for witnessing the hysteria and terror surrounding AIDS. It’s rarely shown on television these days, possibly because it is now fairly outdated, but if you get the chance to see it, I would highly recommend it.

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The Normal Heart is a fictionalised account of a gay activist, who tried to raise awareness of AIDS in New York in the early 1980s. Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo, in a role based on The Normal Heart’s writer Larry Kramer) is horrified when gay men start dying of what is called Gay Cancer, and he starts a HIV Advocacy group, in an attempt to get the government to take notice, and to help raise awareness. Weeks prefers a more outspoken way of tackling the problem, unlike many of his fellow members of the group, some of whom are not openly gay, and this causes tension amongst them. During this time, Weeks falls in love with Felix (Matt Bomer) a journalist who is also frustrated at the restrictions on what he can write about.

The film also stars Jim Parsons as Tommy (based on Rodger McFarlane), a friend of Ned, Taylor Kitsch as Bruce (based on Paul Popham), another member of the Advocacy group, Julia Roberts as a Doctor who tries to raise awareness (based on real life Doctor Linda Laubenstein). Albert Molina also appears as Ned’s brother, who loves him but struggles to understand his lifestyle or the crusade he has set himself upon.

Well – wow! It’s hard to describe just how fantastic I thought this film was. It was heartbreaking and inspiring all the at the same time. Kramer wrote the play which the film is adapted from, in 1985, at which time the AIDS crisis was in full flow. I cannot imagine how it must have felt to watch his friends dying in such numbers, and yet to be more or less ignored by the government. Mark Ruffalo really portrayed the frustration and anger that Ned Weeks felt. Matt Bomer won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor as Felix, and it was totally deserved. (Ruffalo was also nominated for Best Actor). Jim Parsons – best known for the role of Sheldon Cooper in comedy The Big Bang Theory – was a revelation here, and brought a lot of warmth to the film

I could probably wax lyrical about this film all day long, but for anyone with the slightest passing interest in the AIDS crisis, or the political and social reaction to it, this is an absolute must-see. Keep a box of tissues handy – you WILL cry. Very highly recommended to all.

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Year of release: 2014

Director: Ryan Murphy

Producers: Jason Blum, Dante Di Loreto, Dede Gardner, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt, Mark Ruffalo, Scott Ferguson, Gina Lamar, Ned Martel, Alexis Martin Woodall

Writers: Larry Kramer (play), Ryan Murphy

Main cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Joe Mantello, Stephen Spinella, BD Wong, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Finn Wittrock

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