Socialist Worker

The Line of Beauty: don’t say you’re gay in front of the servants

by Diana Swingler
Issue No. 2000

The television series The Line of Beauty asks questions about sexuality and class.

It explores the fate of a gay man living in the house of a top Conservative.

It’s the summer of 1983 and 20 year old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens – Tory MP Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby, whom Nick has befriended at Oxford university, and the self-harming Catherine.

The series brilliantly conveys the opulence of the lives of the rich.

In some ways it does this more effectively than the prize winning novel by Alan Hollinghurst that it is based on.

In the TV series each detail in every scene – from the paintings on the wall to the cigars at the dinner parties – exudes the sense of money and power.

Nick hasn’t been born into this set and has to hide the fact he’s gay to be safe from the vicious prejudices of those around him.

For most of the time he’s concerned only with his individual fate and his love affairs.

We see his relationships with a black council worker and then a Lebanese millionaire.

Ridiculously the fact the series shows men kissing one another and includes some sex scenes (on a level which is commonplace in heterosexual drama) has raised eyebrows in some sections of the media.

It’s not easy to empathise with any of the major characters, who live in a world that is utterly divorced from those they presume to rule over.

But it is interesting to see whether the unspoken deal (you can be a gay Tory, but for goodness sake don’t make too much of it) can protect Nick for any length of time.

The novel is not nasty enough about the Tories. Like Nick it sometimes seems the author is seduced by the gilded set he portrays.

The TV series is rather harder. It’s serious drama and a cut above most of what appears.

The Line of Beauty begins on Wednesday 17 May at 9pm on BBC 2

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Article information

Sat 13 May 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2000
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