This past week, PJ and I watched the BBC miniseries, The Line of Beauty, adapted from Alan Hollingshurst’s novel of the same name. I haven’t read the novel (yet), but I liked the miniseries quite a lot.

Beginning in 1983, it follows Nick, played by Dan Stevens, a recent graduate of Oxford, as he moves in with the family of one of his college friends, Toby Fedden, played by Oliver Coleman (pictured on the left below). Toby’s family is wealthy and politically well connected, especially since Toby father, Gerald, played by Tim McInnerny, is a Tory MP. The plot takes place over four years, a period bookmarked by two elections, both of which return Margaret Thatcher to the government.

Nick (pictured in the middle above) is a working-class aesthete. His father is an antiques dealer, and Nick has absorbed his knowledge of art, furniture, and aesthetics, and then studied literature at the university, all of which helps him find a place among the wealthy politicos of his new environment. Nick is also gay, a fact that is conveniently ignored by most of his new found family and their friends.

Since Toby is beautiful but straight and soon engaged to be married, Nick is forced to turn his sexual interest elsewhere. At the urging of Toby’s manic-depressive sister, Catherine, Nick answers a personal ad and meets up with Leo. Toby’s hobnobbing with England’s conservative elite stands in marked contrast to his furtive sex with Leo, who is black and working class. Not surprisingly, their relationship doesn’t last long.

But its demise leaves Nick in a precarious situation: how to find sexual partners among his wealthy friends in an age in which AIDS is increasingly threatening the gay male population. The tensions between Nick’s sexuality, the AIDS crisis, the Fedden family’s personal and professional indiscretions, and the Thatcher government’s policies comes to a head in the third act, when the consequences of being in the closet, political corruption, and private scandal all collide in one cataclysmic event.

On the whole, I thought this miniseries was really good. The acting was excellent. Dan Stevens is very good as Nick. He keeps the character likable even if he’s a bit slow to pick up on the corruption around him. Nick is surely meant to be a complicated character, one whose outsider status allows him to critique the people around him even while he loves the perks he receives as the Fedden’s lodger.

Alice Krige is also excellent. She plays the Fedden matriarch, Rachel. At first, her part seems like the typical (extremely wealthy) housewife part but Krige imbues it with subtlety. By the end of the series, we — like Nick — see that she was not what we thought she was previously. (She’s also great in her guest role on Deadwood btw.)

The other major acharacter to come into Nick’s life is Wani Ouradi, played by Alex Wyndham (pictured on the right above). Wani is the heir to a fortune and desperate to make sure that his Lebanese father doesn’t discover his homosexuality. At one point in the series, Nick remarks of Wani, “I just think he’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.” Wyndham is great in this part and is indeed a beautiful man.

The best part of the movie is its interrogation of Thatcher’s policies and their effects on the working classes. While the upper classes got richer and more powerful, the working classes got poorer. While the elites remain untouched by the real problems of regular people — AIDS, poverty, and mental health — the poor continued to suffer.

A couple of years ago, I taught a senior seminar on the theater of the left in the 1980s. We studied anti-Thatcher plays by Caryl Churchill and anti-Reagan plays by Tony Kushner specifically. Having recently seen The History Boys, the first season of St. Elsewhere, the musical version of Billy Elliot and now this, I could see adding a number of texts to a class like that and teaching it again.

At any rate, The Line of Beauty is a very good miniseries. Now maybe I’ll read the novel too!

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