Queer as Folk Review
It's Thursday night in Canal Street, Manchester's gay village. Stuart Jones (Aidan Gillen) is well-off, good looking and quite happy to shag a different man every night. Vince Tyler (Craig Kelly) has known him for years, but somehow exists in his shadow: he has very little confidence in himself. Both are approaching the big three-oh and wondering if they can continue to live their lives this way. Nathan Maloney (Charlie Hunnam) is young, still at school, and the one-night-stand who won't go away...
When Queer as Folk was first broadcast on Channel 4, many people didn't know what had hit them. There were complaints, notably the entirely willing seduction of fifteen-year-old Nathan (Charlie Hunnam was actually nineteen at the time) by Stuart. That scene, in Episode 1, certainly pushed the envelope for small-screen depictions of sex between men. But ultimately there were more in favour than not, and the serial was recognised as not only groundbreaking in its portrayal of gay life, but an excellent drama by any standard. According to the production company's research, no straight man under thirty-four watched it, and more than half of the audience was female.
Not neglecting the strong acting and stylish direction, the strength of the series lies in Russell T. Davies's sharp writing. The three leads are fully three-dimensional, and Davies isn't afraid to let them be unsympathetic from time to time. Stuart is shallow and hedonistic, but loyal to Vince; there's an unspoken and unrequited love between them that is tested in the later stages when Vince finds a boyfriend, rich Australian accountant Cameron. Vince is a Dr Who fan (considering the authentic references, it's no surprise that Davies has written at least one Dr Who novel), and there's a funny scene where he picks up a man who'd rather watch Genesis of the Daleks than have sex. Nathan is a convincing teenager, simultaneously confused and full of himself. His self-absorption is neatly skewered by his best friend Donna (Carla Henry): "I'm black and I'm a girl – try that for a week."
As Davies is himself a gay man from Manchester, you can't doubt the authenticity of the background, but importantly his characters are placed in a network of friends, family and colleagues, straight as well as gay. Most of the supporting cast is equally well drawn, though lesbian couple Romey (Esther Hall) and Lisa (Saira Todd) are noticeably underwritten. It's that strong supporting cast that is the real strength of the show; the fact that much of it is missing or largely sidelined is one of the reasons why the sequel was a disappointment.
Queer as Folk comprises two DVD-9 discs with four episodes each, neatly separating the contributions of the two directors. Charles McDougall (who went on to make Heart) has a more flamboyant style, of which the crane shot that ends Episode 4 is a good example. Sarah Harding is less flashy, but her episodes dig deeper into characterisation, mirroring the serial's progression from carefree hedonism to self-responsibility. The picture is in the original broadcast ratio of 16:9 and is generally very good with the occasional artefact. However it's non-anamorphic for no obvious reason. The sound is Dolby Surround, but is mostly monophonic with the surround channel taken up with music. (As video/DVD rights weren't signed at the time of production – most people assumed this would be a strictly minority-appeal drama – some of the music from the broadcast version has had to be replaced.) The extras are nothing much. The behind-the-scenes footage consists of two short extracts from an unidentified TV programme, with on-set interviews with Davies, producer Nicola Shindler and some of the cast. These pay undue attention to the non-issue that most of the actors playing gay characters were actually straight, but doesn't tell you much you didn't know already. There are also two twenty-page photo libraries. A minus point is the lack of any subtitles: don't VCI think anyone who is hard-of-hearing or a non-native English speaker will want to watch this? There are an adequate thirty-two chapter stops, four per half-hour episode.
Minor nitpicks aside however, there's not much to complain about: a major TV drama of the 90s is preserved on disc.