Novelist Patrick Gale drew a key scene in Man in an Orange Shirt (BBC Two) from family history: how his mother found a stash of passionate love letters in his father’s desk and was horrified to see they had been written not by a former girlfriend, but by the best man at his wedding.
Just such a discovery proved pivotal in the opening part of this fine TV drama, which explored the corrosive impact of being unable to pursue love truly and to the full. Up to that point, the story had been a familiar, if exquisitely wrought, tale of repression; of how two Army officers, Michael (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Thomas (James McArdle), met during the Second World War and fell in love.
A love story in two films charts the very different challenges to happiness for Michael and Thomas in the aftermath of World War 2, and to Adam and Steve in the present day.
Season 01, Episode 01
British Army captain Michael Berryman falls in love with war artist Thomas March in the chaos of the Italy campaign, but can their romance be allowed to endure when the over is over? A chance conversation with her grandson reminds Flora Berryman, now 90, of the dark and difficult years of her marriage to Michael, and a story she might never have known.
Italy, 1944. As Allied troops push up through southern Italy, Captain Michael Berryman finds his regiment under fire. With their medic dead, Michael triages the wounded being dragged into the besieged crypt they have taken refuge in. Amongst them is war artist Thomas March, known briefly by Michael from his school days. The two men survive the night and in the following days, a bond forms between them as Michael is drawn to Thomas’s bohemian charms.
The two guys meet in the war. Next minute they start kissing with no lead up. They promise to find each other after the war. Like they are madly in love. We never get to see how they fall in love so hard or that they're really attracted to each other. The show is much more interested in the hot guy marrying a woman, how she feels. It's meant to be the centerpiece of Gay Britannia but it's much more about the straight marriage than a gay relationship. It is clearly made for straight people. At the start we can see the butts of soldiers. In the front view the camera just cuts off at the pubes. Just one hour later and it would have been post-watershed. Even pre-watershed, Against the Law was in the same time slot and it showed gay sex. In Man in an Orange Shirt scenes are cut from kissing to cuddling after sex. Gay sex is clearly happening in the story, but not shown on screen. And straight sex with his wife is shown on screen, as a way to demonstrate the crude, dispassionate mechanics but still.