Man in an Orange Shirt tells two love stories set 60 years apart, connected by secrets buried in letters, in a mysterious painting, and deep in characters’ hearts. Before you swoon over the costumes and get swept away by the performances, here are a few things you’ll need—and love—to know about this MASTERPIECE.
Our "Little Champion" & Other Favorites
Actress Joanna Vanderham plays Man in an Orange Shirt‘s Flora Talbot, sweetheart to Captain Michael Berryman when he deploys to fight in World War II. But you may remember her starring role as country mouse turned retailer-on-the-rise in the Victorian department store drama The Paradise. Another favorite actress returning to MASTERPIECE as Flora’s sister, Daphne, is Laura Carmichael, Downton Abbey‘s beloved bad-luck magnet, Lady Edith.
Find out about more familiar faces you’ll see in Man in an Orange Shirt!
When the BBC asked novelist Patrick Gale to write a drama about gay lives, it turns out that he had a very personal story to tell, inspired by a secret that his father believed he’d taken to the grave. Like Man in an Orange Shirt‘s Flora, Gale’s mother, pregnant with her son, had discovered a stash of love letters to her husband from another man, and burnt them.
Man in an Orange Shirt was commissioned by the BBC and premiered in the UK for its “Gay Britannia” season, celebrating the 50th anniversary of partial decriminalization of gay sex with the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Prior to the 1967 ruling, the arrest and imprisonment of gay men brutally destroyed lives. Though the 1967 act was far from ideal, decriminalizing only homosexual acts done in private, it paved the way for people to organize as activists for meaningful rights and change, such as the 1976 London protest by supporters of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (pictured).
Actress & Activist
In a bid to win the famously liberal Vanessa Redgrave to play the role of Flora, a woman embittered by a life of compromise and secrets, Man in an Orange Shirt‘s writer Patrick Gale wrote the actress a three-page letter explaining Flora’s actions and attitudes. Redgrave found her understanding of the character, explaining, “I had to start with the thought that she wasn’t always brusque and difficult. She was somebody very nice who has had to fabricate a whole denial system in her life. The impact of that has built and built throughout her life.”
At the film’s screening, Redgrave spoke passionately of a personal family connection to its subject matter, saying, “It has made me think a lot about my father’s generation. He was bisexual and a lot of his friends were totally gay; there were quite a few lesbians too. To protect themselves, they protected each other. How could we have called ourselves a democracy up until 1967 when this was illegal? The cruelty!”