A Single Man

For other uses, see A Single Man (disambiguation).
A Single Man

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tom Ford
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on A Single Man
by Christopher Isherwood
Music by Abel Korzeniowski
Cinematography Eduard Grau
Edited by Joan Sobel
Distributed by The Weinstein Company
Release dates
  • September 11, 2009 (2009-09-11) (Venice Film Festival)
  • December 11, 2009 (2009-12-11) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million[2]
Box office $25 million[3]

A Single Man is a 2009 American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. It is directed by Tom Ford in his directorial debut and stars Colin Firth, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of George Falconer, a depressed gay British university professor living in Southern California in 1962.

The film premiered on September 11, 2009 at the 66th Venice International Film Festival, and went on the film festival circuit. After it screened at the 34th Toronto International Film Festival, The Weinstein Company picked it up for distribution in the United States and Germany. An initial limited run in the United States commenced on December 11, 2009, to qualify it for the 82nd Academy Awards with a wider release in early 2010.[4]


Taking place over the course of a single day, November 30, 1962, a month after the Cuban missile crisis, A Single Man is the story of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a middle-aged English college professor living in Los Angeles. George dreams that he encounters the body of his longtime partner, Jim (Matthew Goode), at the scene of the car accident that took Jim's life eight months earlier. After awakening, George delivers a voiceover discussing the pain and depression he has endured since Jim's death and his intention to commit suicide that evening.

George receives a phone call from his dearest friend, Charley (Julianne Moore), who projects lightheartedness despite her being equally miserable. George goes about his day putting his affairs in order and focusing on the beauty of isolated events, believing he is seeing things for the last time. Throughout, there are flashbacks to George and Jim's sixteen-year-long relationship.

During the school day George comes into contact with a student, Kenny Potter (Nicholas Hoult), who shows interest in George and disregards conventional boundaries of student-professor discussion. George also forms an unexpected connection with a Spanish male prostitute, Carlos (Jon Kortajarena). That evening George meets Charley for dinner. Though they initially reminisce and amuse themselves by dancing, Charley's desire for a deeper relationship with George and her failure to understand his relationship with Jim angers George.

George goes to a bar and discovers that Kenny has followed him. They get a round of drinks, go skinny dipping, and then return to George's house and continue drinking. George passes out and wakes up alone in bed with Kenny asleep in another room. George gets up and while watching Kenny discovers that he had fallen asleep holding George's gun, taken from the desktop, to keep George from committing suicide. George locks the gun away, burns his suicide notes and in a closing voiceover explains how he has rediscovered the ability "to feel, rather than think". As he makes peace with his grief, George suffers a heart attack and dies.


Jon Hamm has an uncredited voice cameo as Harold Ackerly. He is a cousin of Jim who phones George to inform him of his partner's death.[5]


Fashion designer Tom Ford, as a first-time director, financed the film himself.[6] The film places emphasis on the culture of the 1960s; the production design is by the same team that designed AMC television's Mad Men, which is set in the same era. Mad Men star Jon Hamm has an uncredited voice cameo as George's lover's cousin.[7] The actual house where the character George lives in the film was designed in 1948 by John Lautner, his first house after leaving Frank Lloyd Wright.[8]

The film was shot in 21 days, according to "The Making of A Single Man" on the DVD.

Marketing controversy

An early theatrical poster for A Single Man featured a close-up shot of Colin Firth and Julianne Moore lying side by side, their arms and shoulders touching. This led to speculation that the work's gay content and themes were being deleted or diminished in its marketing materials to improve its chances of success with a wider audience. A new poster with Moore relocated to the background was issued. The film's original trailer placed more emphasis on the relationship between George and Jim but a re-cut trailer omitted a shot of George and Jim kissing while retaining a kiss between George and Charley. Also deleted were a shot of George staring into a male student's eyes, while keeping a shot of George staring into the eyes of a female student, shots of George meeting hustler Carlos outside a liquor store, and shots of George and Kenny running nude into the ocean.[9]

Speaking of the controversy, Moore said that director Tom Ford expressed concern that the original poster made the film appear to be a romantic comedy and that he ordered that the poster be changed.[10] However Ford, noting he does not see the film in terms of gay or straight, said, "I don't think the movie's been de-gayed. I have to say that we live in a society that's pretty weird. For example, you can have full-frontal male nudity on HBO, yet in cinema, you can't have naked male buttocks. You can't have men kissing each other without it being considered adult content. So, in order to cut a trailer that can go into broad distribution in theaters, certain things had to be edited out. But it wasn't an intentional attempt to remove the gayness of the movie."[11] Conversely, Colin Firth said, "[The marketing] is deceptive. I don't think they should do that because there's nothing to sanitize. It's a beautiful story of love between two men and I see no point in hiding that. People should see it for what it is."[12] Harvey Weinstein would only say, when asked about the revised poster, "I'm good. You got enough. Thank you."[13] Peter Knegt of Indiewire suggested that The Weinstein Company "de-gayed" the trailer to better the film's chances of receiving Academy Award nominations.[9]


Critical response

66th Venice Film Festival, 10th day (September 11, 2009).
Red carpet with Matthew Goode, Tom Ford, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, Nicholas Hoult and Jon Kortajarena at 66th Venice Film Festival.

The film has received an overall positive reception from critics, with most reviews singling out Colin Firth's performance. It currently holds an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 175 reviews, with the site's consensus being that "Though the costumes are beautiful and the art direction impeccable, what stands out most from this debut by fashion designer Tom Ford is the leading performance by Colin Firth."[14] Metacritic has compiled an average score of 77 (generally favorable reviews) from 35 critic reviews.[15]

Michael Phillips from the Chicago Tribune wrote "Some films aren’t revelations, exactly, but they burrow so deeply into old truths about love and loss and the mess and thrill of life, they seem new anyway"[16] Bob Mondello from NPR commented “An exquisite, almost sensual grief suffuses every frame of A Single Man.”[16] Marc Savlov from The Austin Chronicle wrote “Everything fits perfectly, from titles to fin, but most of all Colin Firth, who dons the role of George like a fine bespoke suit.”[16]

Critics who liked the film include The A. V. Club film critic Nathan Rabin, who gave the film an A- score, arguing that "A Single Man is a film of tremendous style wedded to real substance, and rooted in "Firth's affecting lead performance as a man trying to keep it together for one last day after his world has fallen apart."[17] Critic Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times also praised Firth, saying that he "plays George superbly, as a man who prepares a face to meet the faces that he meets. He betrays very little emotion, and certainly his thoughts cannot be read in his eyes."[18]

The Times newspaper of London called the film "a thing of heart-stopping beauty . . . There will be critics who will be unable to get past the director's background, but rest assured: Tom Ford is the real deal."[19] Variety's verdict: "Luminous and treasurable, despite its imperfections. An impressive helming debut for fashion designer Tom Ford."[20]


The film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 66th Venice International Film Festival and won the festival's third annual Queer Lion.[21] Colin Firth was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the film festival for his performance in the film.[22] He received a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.[23] Firth also received Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations for Best Actor. For her performance, Julianne Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in Motion Picture. Abel Korzeniowski was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. The film received the Grand Prix from the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.[24]

On January 14, 2010, the film was nominated for, and later won, Outstanding Film – Wide Release at the 21st GLAAD Media Awards.[25]


  1. "A Single Man (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. December 11, 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  2. Anne Thompson (November 20, 2009). "Sixteen Questions for A Single Man's Tom Ford" Archived January 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.. Indiewire. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  3. "A Single Man (2009)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on June 8, 2010. Retrieved June 21, 2010.
  4. Fleming, Michael; Swart, Sharon (September 14, 2009). "Weinsteins engage Single Man". Variety. Retrieved December 3, 2009.
  5. Brown, Lane (December 10, 2009). "Don Draper Revealed as Single Man's Bearer of Bad News". New York. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  6. Holson, Laura M. (December 2, 2009). "Tom Ford: Design Director". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 1, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2009.
  7. Malkin, Marc (September 24, 2008). "Tom Ford Looking to Single Out Some Mad Men". E! Online. Archived from the original on December 15, 2009. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  8. According to Tom Ford's director commentary on the DVD. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  9. 1 2 "A Tale of Two Trailers: The De-Gaying of A Single Man". Indiewire. October 26, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  10. "Julianne Moore on the De-Gaying of A Single Man". BlackBook. February 3, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  11. Shapiro, Gregg. "A singular man". Ebar. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  12. Voss, Brandon (December 9, 2009). "Colin Firth: Singled Out". Advocate. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  13. Vilensky, Mike (November 7, 2013). "Harvey Weinstein Explains A Single Man's Marketing, Sort of". NYMag.com. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  14. "A Single Man (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  15. "A Single Man (2009)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  16. 1 2 3 Alexander Ryll (2014). "Essential Gay Themed Films To Watch, A Single Man". Gay-Themed-Films.com. Gay Essential. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  17. Rabin, Nathan (December 10, 2009). "A Single Man review". A. V. Club. Archived from the original on December 13, 2009. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
  18. Ebert, Roger (December 23, 2009). "A Single Man review". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  19. Ide, Wendy (September 11, 2009). "A Single Man at Venice Film Festival". The Times. London.
  20. Felperin, Leslie (September 11, 2009). "A Single Man". Variety.
  21. "Gay Entertainment Report: Ford's Single Man Wins Queer Lion". OnTopMag.com. September 12, 2009. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  22. "66th Venice International Film Festival Official Awards". Labiennale.org. Archived from the original on October 6, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
  23. "63rd British Academy Film Awards – Leading Actor". BAFTA.org. Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  24. "A Single Man, Grand Prix 2011 de l'UCC". Moniteur du film (in French). Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  25. "21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards – English Language Nominees". GLAAD.org. Archived from the original on January 17, 2010. Retrieved January 14, 2010.

Further reading

External links

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