Writer Christopher Isherwood was writing as an out gay men while his contemporaries were still closeted. He traveled plenty, but blossomed as both a writer and a homosexual during his time in Berlin just before World War II broke out. The gay subculture was just what Isherwood was looking for and he found it in the German city known for its decadence. Director Geoffrey Sax craftily captures Isherwoodâs loves and losts with the Visually stunning and “Christopher and His Kind.”
Isherwood (Matt Smith, currently the title Time Lord of the UK’s “Doctor Who”) has been sent down from Cambridge and decides to follow his former classmate and former lover, poet W.H. Auden (Pip Carter) to Berlin. Itâs an easy call for Isherwood, who is well aware of his homosexuality and needs to escape the clutches of his domineering mum and the responsibility of his developmentally disabled little brother. Before even making it to Deutschland, he is cruised by a fellow Englishman (Toby Keith) who urges him to take a room in the boarding house where he will be staying.
Auden meets Isherwood at the train and the first site Isherwood cares to take in is that of a cavernous gay bar called the Cozy Corner, which is chock full of hunky German men, most of whom are gay-for-pay. Isherwood takes up with on such stud, despite Audenâs warnings. Meanwhile back at the somewhat sleazy boarding house, Isherwood meets Jean Ross (Imogene Poots), a bohemian chanteuse with Hollywood stardom in her eyes. The two become fast friends and she will soon be the inspiration for Isherwoodâs most famous fictional character, Sally Bowles.
Things are getting ugly in Germany. Hitler is coming to power and the Nazis are conducting nightly raids, defacing Jewish-owned businesses, and burning books of which they donât approve. Isherwoodâs Jewish friend warns the writer: “We must all stand by our own kind.” Isherwood falls in love with a street-cleaner, but their tender relationship is threatened by Heinzâs (Douglas Booth) Nazi brother. There is a dark cloud hanging over the gay old times and the cloud-burst will change not just the characterâs destinies, but the world.
The film is beautifully shot and captures every aspect of Isherwoodâs life, which is a slice of LGBT history. We see the novelist in the future ö in his Los Angeles home ö writing and remembering the events we are witnessing. It is with this importance reference that render the events bittersweet. The film was shot for the BBC, so its sexual situations are restrained. The quality of the performances are top drawer and there isnât a weak link. The film’s pace is quick when it needs to be and languishes on poignant scenes and details when necessary.
“Christopher and His Kind” is a great film and its place in queer cinema is secure. How delightful it is that the filmmakers chose to use Isherwoodâs eloquent words as the foundation for this engaging film. It took almost 20 years after the manuscript was completed for Isherwoodâs memoir to be published. In 1976, ‘gay liberation’ was in full swing and the novelist no longer needed to hide behind coded scenes and veiled characters. He could be out and proud and chose to be so when many of his contemporaries could not find the strength to do so. Isherwood chose to live his life on his own terms and “Christopher and His Kind” shows us precisely which profound experiences allowed him to do so.
Christopher and His Kind will screen Sunday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Castro Theater. For more information, go to: www.frameline.com.