Firth achieves subtle, heart-breaking impact

A landmark work of gay literature, Christopher Isherwood’s “A Single Man” was perhaps most radical in its understated treatment of progressive politics, and Tom Ford’s film adaptation retains that tone, even when diverging from the novel.

Perhaps nowhere is this audacious subtlety more devastating than the brief scene in which Colin Firth’s George is informed of his longtime lover’s death via a perfunctory phone call from the police.

The voice on the other end (provided by Jon Hamm) lays out the scenario in matter-of-fact fashion — as one might discuss a casual acquaintance, rather than a spouse — and George is forced to respond in kind, with only the tiniest twitches in Firth’s countenance alerting us that his heart is breaking.

The final twist of the knife comes at the end of this exchange, when the caller mentions that the funeral will be “family only,” which despite their 16 years of partnership, means that George is not invited. With these two words, and without the slightest grandstanding, Ford dramatizes the essential inhumanity of any policy, whether legal or cultural, that would conspire to keep loved ones apart during times of greatest need.

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