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This is a novelisation of the 1993 film Philadelphia, which won Tom Hanks his first Academy Award. It’s important to note that the book is based on the film script rather than the film being adapted from the book, because when the book comes first there are usually at least some changes in the film. In this case however, the novel is quite literally a scene by scene story of the film, with the same dialogue throughout.

For anyone who isn’t aware, Philadelphia tells the story of a talented and successful lawyer named Andrew Beckett. He is gay and has full blown AIDS, which he has so far managed to keep to himself, his partner and family and his close friends. However, when the partners at the huge corporate law firm that he works at find out about his illness he is fired. Although they claim that it is due to the mediocre standard of his work, he is convinced that it is because of his illness and/or sexuality, and he decides to sue them. But finding a lawyer who will act for him in court proves difficult and he ends up hiring homophobic personal injury lawyer Joe Miller. Joe does not want to take the case because of his own prejudices, but his prevailing sense of fairness compels him to do so and now the two of them have to prepare for the biggest legal battle either of them have ever faced.

It’s virtually impossible to review the book without also reviewing the film, and while I have always considered both Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington to be superb in their respective roles in the film (Hanks is Andrew Beckett and Washington is Joe Miller), there are better films about HIV/AIDS crisis, and there are definitely better books about the subject.

Because the book is just a recap of the film, there is very little characterisation, because that all came through on screen. Consequently, all of the characters are basically cardboard cut-outs – Andrew is a brilliant and intelligent opera lover, Joe is a charismatic but prejudiced family man, Andrew’s partner Miguel is a hot-headed Spaniard. (Miguel’s character suffers the most from not being more fleshed out – I would have liked to have seen more about how he coped with his lover’s illness, in an emotional sense.)

The prose is certainly undemanding, despite the subject matter and I read the book very quickly. However, while it is perfectly functional, it never really does more than scratch the surface of the situation.

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This little gem of a movie is unsurprisingly set in 1985, and revolves around a young man named Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith), who has been living in New York City for several years. He is returning to the small Texas town where he grew up to spend Christmas with his ultra conservative parents (Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen) and his younger brother (Aidan Langford). What Adrian hasn’t told them is that he is gay, or that he is HIV positive.

There’s not a lot of action in this film and in many ways not a lot actually happens. It is a careful study of an awkward and difficult relationship between a young man and his father (his mother is far more open and affectionate with Adrian). His father Dale is deeply religious and also extremely homophobic. It’s clear from the tension between them when Dale picks Adrian up from the airport, that they have little in common and don’t know how to be around each other.

The small main cast is rounded out by Jamie Chung as Carly, a childhood friend of Adrian, who his mother would like to see him have a relationship with. His father is not so keen as Carly is Korean, and along with his many prejudices, Dale is also racist. But Chiklis plays him as a multi-layered character, as distasteful as his attitudes definitely are. Smith is wonderful and heartbreaking as Adrian, and kudos to Langford for a sensitive portrayal as younger brother Andrew. Virginia Madsen straddles the line between sensitivity and love for her son, and the uncomfortable suspicion that his lifestyle might be one she cannot cope with.

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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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