NERVOUS ENERGY FEATURE
Nervous Energy: Cal Macanlnch (left) and Alfred Mollna trollc In the heather In happler times
Too young to die
om and Ira, the central characters in BBC drama Nervous Energy live a life reminiscent of an lkea advertisement featuring two gay men with a ﬂair for interior decor. Tom is the ﬂamboyant opera lover. while his older and wiser partner lra is the sensible other half who keeps the couple in soft furnishings as presenter of a Radio 4 arts programme. Tom is the wild one. a camp biker who does wheelies in residential areas, while lra grins paternally at his lover’s unaffected exuberance. These were the happy days told in ﬂashback but — and there’s usually a but in such idyllic set-ups — Tom is HIV positive.
Like Hollywood’s ﬁrst major ‘AlDS movie’ Philadelphia, with Tom Hanks as a successful young corporate lawyer who runs into a wall of prejudice when he tests positive. Nervous Energy is a middle-class lifestyle ﬁlm about knowing who your friends are. However, while Philadelphia suggested the family was ultimately a strong enough institution to survive producing the occasional gay son. Nervous Energy is about a family that has never really come to terms with Tom’s homosexuality.
According to John Wilkes. manager of Glasgow-based HIV support agency PHACE West, Nervous Energy‘s plot is more typical among his gay clients. many of whom suffer a second rejection from families that have never accepted their homosexuality. ‘People with cancer or liver disease can usually expect support from those around them and that’s not always the case with AIDS.‘ he says. ‘They have to rely on other support networks.’
Nervous Energy was written by Howard Schuman — best known as the American presenter of cerebral ﬁlm show Moviewateh. though his contribution to kitsch 70s television Rock Follies should also be remembered. However. this 90-minute television ﬁlm is a far more personal piece that Schuman says explores ‘the time I shared with a Tom of my own’. Although a work of ﬁction, the story is ﬁrmly based on a relationship the writer had
For World AIDS Day, the BBC is screening Nervous Energy, an affecting film about a young Glaswegian man with HIV. It is based on a true story, which is probably why so many of the details ring true, says Eddie Gibb.
with a man who died of AlDS, and though the Tom of Nervous Energy doesn’t die in the last reel, it’s clear he will sometime soon.
Tom is a young Glaswegian whose sexuality and decision to follow lra to London have left him estranged from family and friends. Like so many young Scots who head south. his homeland still has a romantic pull, and as Tom faces up to his own mortality he needs increasingly to reconcile himself with his family. The trip home is a disaster. 'I‘om realises how little he now has in common with those he
‘The roots of this story are in a very personal experience with my great love who moved down from Glasgow and lived with AIDS. It’s a reattirmation of love.’
left behind. lra arrives in Glasgow to rescue his lover. whose virus-fuelled ‘ncrvous energy’ has set him on a path of self-destruction. The couple return to London. where 'l‘om‘s new ‘family’ are on hand to offer love and support.
"l‘he roots of this story are in a very personal experience with my great love who moved down from Glasgow and lived with AIDS,’ says Schuman. ‘lt’s a reafﬁrmation of love for [my] Tom, but it's also about where you belong which I felt strongly as someone who had moved from America 27 years ago.‘
Nervous Energy appears to suggest, possibly unintentionally, that Glasgow’s gay scene is ﬁlled with superﬁcial and repressed relationships, while true homosexual love can ﬂourish more freely in London. Tom gets little
more comfort from his family. The sister-in-law is the caricature of the straight-laced suburban housewife, while his mum’s attempts to smother Tom with love and home-baking over-does the stereotypical mother-gay son relationship a little.
Despite its weaknesses, Nervous Energy succeeds because of the love affair at its heart. Alfred Molina — Joe Orton’s lover in Prick Up Your Ears - is Ira. while Tom is played by young Scottish actor Cal Macaninch, who himself left Glasgow six years ago to ﬁnd work in London. ‘When I read the script I thought “I know this part",’ remembers Macaninch.
For Schuman, the Scot’s performance was like having his ‘own Tom’ come alive again, despite a total lack of physical resemblance. ‘Howard would rarely talk to us about what had happened in his life — he would just talk about Tom and lra,’ says Macaninch. ‘We visited the hospital where the real Tom was nursed and some of the people 1 talked to remembered him. It was an incredibly moving experience which hit home and made me realise what this disease was all about, because I think I’d been a bit complacent about AlDS.’
In fact, says Schuman, much of what he told the actors was true. but he chose to blur fact and ﬁction to let the characters develop a life oftheir own. What gives Nervous Energy a sense of authenticity are the tiny details and the black sense of humour that often surrounds death. Tom and Ira have a loving, emotional relationship, but the ﬁlm doesn’t shy away from showing them as sexually active individuals, which mainstream movie releases like Philadelphia are forced to leave out — the Tom Hanks character never wore leather underpants at the dinner table. as I recall. By making this love affair totally believable, the sadness surrounding Tom’s impending death is genuinely moving. Nervous Energy is not a unique story, but the fact that it is repeated hundreds of times in Britain every year simply reinforces the tragedy.
Nervous Energy is screened on Saturday 2 December on BB C 2.
The List l7-30 Nov l99519 .