Love is still controversial to the Catholic Church, at least if it is displayed between men. As late as 2016, the British film Weekend ran into trouble in Italy. The church owns and operates thousands of arthouse theaters and they decided to suppress the release of Weekend. But even though only a few theaters showed the film, it became a sensational hit in Italy. Perhaps the church’s labeling of the film as indecent and ”unusable” attracted the crowds. In any case, love triumphed over religious bigotry.
Hooking up with Glen
After attending a house party, Russell (Tom Cullen) tells his best friend Jamie (Jonathan Race) that he’s tired and has to get up for work the next day. But instead of going home, Russell heads to a gay club where he hooks up with Glen (Chris New). The following morning, in Russell’s bed, Glen makes him talk into a tape recorder for a project he’s doing for his art class. Russell is very uncomfortable about discussing his sex life, but at the same time he’s keeping a secret diary on his laptop, detailing his thoughts about the men he dates.
Russell and Glen keep seeing each other, getting closer even as they learn how different they are. Then comes the day when Glen tells Russell that he’s moving to Portland, Oregon, an ocean and a continent away…
Resonating with the gay experience
At heart, it’s a simple tale about strangers who meet and fall in love. Andrew Haigh made his directing debut with Greek Pete (2009), a film about a rent boy, but Weekend became his major breakthrough, a story that was particularly attractive to audiences starved of gay love stories that resonated with their experiences. Everything about Weekend feels authentic, including the glum Nottingham locations; Haigh didn’t want to make a movie about affluent Londoners, but regular people living in a smaller city that still had a gay community, only not as obvious as the one in London. A place where heterosexuality dominates to an even greater degree, as we can tell in several sequences where Russell has lunch with co-workers and rides the tram, listening to painfully straight, sometimes offensive conversations.
The script was written by Haigh, but constantly a work in progress, many of the scenes between the two leads taking a different direction than Haigh intended. In other words, a perfect collaboration between Haigh, Cullen and New. In some respect, Russell and Glen represent two very different but common types of gay men, one who is out and perhaps looking for a traditional relationship, but not likely to stand on barricades, and another who’s been out since he was basically a kid, always here and queer, always at war with conservative notions of relationships and family. Russell and Glen clash, as they must considering their different viewpoints, and their arguments are likely to feel familiar to gay audiences who I’m sure pick a side; I know I had more in common with Russell. In any case, all that vanishes near the end as they have a touching encounter at the airport and we see some of Glen’s tough, carefree façade melt away. The two actors are entirely right for their roles, even Cullen who didn’t recognize anything of Russell in himself but still crafted a believable performance.
Weekend is far from indecent or even shockingly explicit. With an intimate tone, well suited for a chamber play, the film slowly builds its emotions and impact.
Weekend 2011-Britain. 97 min. Color. Produced by Tristan Goligher. Written, directed and edited by Andrew Haigh. Cast: Tom Cullen (Russell), Chris New (Glen), Jonathan Race (Jamie), Laura Freeman, Loretto Murray, Johnathan Wright.
Last word: “Intially, for the first audition, we only got the first ten pages. I remember being really impressed. You know a good script from the first three, and I thought it was brilliantly written, and I immediately saw this outline of Russell – his contradictions, and what drives him. He was so alien from anything I am as a person, I just wanted to fill that shape, and try that character on. The second audition I had 20 pages, and it was so frustrating – I wanted more! I had other offers of better paid jobs at the time, but there was no way I was going to do anything other than ‘Weekend’.” (Cullen, DIY Magazine)