★★★★★  Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves | A man lies dying alone in a solitary hospital room. Two nurses, wearing protective clothing from head to foot are dressing his sores and wounds.

CREDIT: (C) SVT - Photographer: Peter Cederling
CREDIT: (C) SVT – Photographer: Peter Cederling

The man is crying with pain. As the nurses finish what they are doing, the younger one removes her rubber glove and wipes away the patient’s tears with her finger. As they leave the room, the older nurse admonishes her, telling her to disinfect her hands immediately. “Don’t ever wipe tears without gloves,” she says.

A voice over tells us that the story we are about to see is true. “It was like a war fought in peacetime…young men fell ill. They grew emaciated, withered away and died.”

So begins this award winning Swedish three parter, based on novelist Jonas Gardell’s trilogy about the impact of AIDS on the gay community in Sweden in the early 1980s, which aired on BBC4 on Monday December 2nd. This first episode, called The Love, is a dramatisation of the first novel, with the next two episodes (The Disease and The Death) to follow over the next couple of weeks.

The bleak opening scene is not representative of the rest of this first episode, which introduces us to the two leading characters, country boy Rasmus and Jehovah’s Witness, Benjamin, still struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality.

CREDIT: (C) SVT - Photographer: Peter Cederling
CREDIT: (C) SVT – Photographer: Peter Cederling

As soon as Rasmus arrives in Stockholm from the country, he seeks out the gay scene, evidently intent on making up for lost time. Rather uncomfortably we witness the probable exact time he becomes infected with HIV, when he has sex with a man with lesions on his back. “What’s that?” he asks. “An allergy, I think,” responds his partner. Nobody knew any better back then.

One of the first people he meets is Paul, a flamboyant and defiantly gay older man, who invites Rasmus to his Christmas party. Paul has also invited Benjamin, whom he had met when Benjamin tried to deliver some Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets. The two boys are immediately drawn to each other, and leave the party together. It ends on a romantic note, with them walking hand in hand down the empty street, the snow swirling round them.

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This first episode is beautifully filmed and realised, vividly bringing to life the home lives of the two young men, as well as the gay scene in Stockholm in the 1980s; the cruising areas, the gay club, where customers discuss the mysterious illness sweeping across America, at the same time thinking it has little to do with them. Subtly and sensitively acted, this is a must see. If you missed the first episode, you can still catch it on iPlayer, and I highly recommend that you do.

 

Episode 2 airs at 10pm on BBC4 on Monday December 9th. Not to be missed.