Based on Alan Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize-winning novel, The Line of Beauty shows Margaret Thatcher’s 80s-England through the eyes of a wide-eyed young gay man. Nick Guest (pretty Dan Stevens who has appropriately fluffy hair) is aptly named, as he becomes a sort of permanent houseguest of his school-chum’s family. But the Feddens aren’t your typical London family: Gerald Fedden, you see, is a politician in Thatcher’s Tory party, and the family speaks of The Lady with name-dropping reverence.
The Feddens have a ridiculously huge home in the heart of the City, complete with private community garden where Nick takes his first tryst in the shadows of the night. Nick thinks his new lover Leo is the real thing, but for some reason the older man shies away before becoming too emotionally involved. Nick has many things to learn, most of which has to do with sex and drugs and lifestyles of the very very rich. But as this is the 80s, the decade won’t close quietly, as Nick’s life is turned upside-down by scandals both in his personal life, and in a much bigger political picture.
Now, I had heard of the book shortly after it won the Booker Prize in 2004, so promptly gave it a whirl. I have to admit, I got only halfway through. There was something about Hollinghurst’s style that came across as cold and pompous. I didn’t really care for the characters, and the density of the writing made me impatient. But whether you are a fan of the book or not, the BBC adaptation of The Line of Beauty (with screenplay by Andrew Davies who adapted Tipping the Velvet and Pride & Prejudice) is quite faithful to the book. From what I read, I found many of the characters to be perfectly cast, especially Don Gilet as Leo and Hayley Atwell as the firecracker Fedden daughter Catherine. Even better than the book are Tim McInnerny and Alice Krige as the Fedden parents. The character of Nick is basically in love with his new adopted family, and you can see why.
The Line of Beauty is not a warm and cozy movie, but thank goodness Nick is a relatively sympathetic character to follow around. He is thrown into a sort of Less Than Zero lifestyle with the added bonus of mingling with the famous and powerful. Thankfully, out of all the characters swirling around him he remains (relatively) grounded. If he were intolerable, the story probably would be, too. But he serves as our eyes, taking us inside the lives of power and money, as well as into the thriving gay scene before it quickly became shattered by AIDS. It shows us an era of gleaming beauty, then slowly, through Nick’s perspective, reveals its ugliness and fragility.