Great Performances (1971– )
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The Lost Language of Cranes 

When a young gay man comes out of the closet. His friends support him, but when he comes out to his parents, he stirs up a wealth of hidden feelings and secrets in their relationship.


When a young gay may comes out of the closet. His friends support him, but when he comes out to his parents, he stirs up a wealth of hidden feelings and secrets in their relationship. Written by Kathy Li

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Release Date:

24 June 1992 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Serious drama about coming out and hiding secrets
8 December 2007 | by (São Paulo, Brazil) – See all my reviews

The lost language of cranes" is a British TV movie based on the novel by David Leavitt. The problem when you see a movie adaptation of a book you have already read -- and loved -- is that either the adaptation is not faithful and betrays the book, or it is too faithful and just looks like a summary of the story. Very rarely a movie adaptation can remain faithful to the essence of the book but not so literal that it brings nothing new to the story; unfortunately, that's the case here.

It tells the story of a family, the Benjamins, who have lots of secrets. Owen Benjamin, played by Brian Cox, is a closeted homosexual married to Rose (Eileen Atkins). Every Sunday Owen goes to a porno cinema, where he has anonymous sex with men. Owen and Rose's son, Philip (Angus MacFadyen), is also a gay man, but he has no problems with his sexuality. He's very much in love with Elliot (Corey Parker), a young American artist who was raised by a gay couple. The conflict starts when Philip decides to come out to his parents, making his father face his own desire and his mother confront her own prejudice.

The most surprising fact about this British adaptation of an American novel is how little the change of place from New York to London affects the story. Indeed, this adaptation is so faithful to the original that whole dialogs from the book appear on the screen, almost unchanged. And yet, we get to know from the bonus interviews on this DVD that the porno cinema, which plays such an important role in the story, was a real problem in the adaptation because there were no such places in London, due to their laws. So apparently the screenwriter, Sean Mathias, had to "create" a porno cinema that never existed, appropriately called "the Fantasy".

Among the sacrifices that had to be made for the sake of the length of the movie, the one I most regret is the use of the character Jerene, played by Cathy Tyson. In the novel, Jerene is a full and complex character, a black lesbian student who was rejected by her parents and develops a thesis about languages that are lost forever, like the little boy who, neglected by his mother, learned to communicate looking at the cranes from his window. In the movie, Jerene appears only to explain the title of the film and little else.

If you haven't read the novel, you will find this movie a very interesting drama about a family having to face their hidden secrets, but without ever raising their voices, which is very British! If you already know the book, however, you may feel a little disappointed.

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