Timothy Findley

January, 2002

Novelist, playwright, scriptwriter. Ontario’s great gay writer will obviously not be remembered most for his cinema connections though they were far from negligible. His first appearance was as a handsome young actor in a very suggestive moment with Alec Guinness in the NFB Stratford Adventure (1954, 39). Among several later ventures into writing for film/TV was the forceful script for Don’t Let the Angels Fall, a pre-CFDC feature (1968) about the implosion of a Westmount nuclear family. Among Findley adaptations is the dutiful 1985 NFB fiction about boyhood initiation into adult geopolitical violence Going to War (Carol Moore-Ede, 24).

Not unrelated in theme is Findley’s greatest contribution to film, his 1982 script of his own 1977 prizewinning novel The Wars (1983, 123), Robin Phillips’ expensive and Stratfordish “heritage film.” Phillips (once and future Stratford Festival honcho) assembled a mass of high-powered talent, including leads Martha Henry, William Hutt, and Brent Carver as the Toronto aristocratic couple and their tormented “sensitive” son Robert, caught up in the Great War. The film flopped castastrophically, and its gorgeous period art design and performances seemed overwhelmed by acrimonious production squabbles. But it was more likely also scuttled by discomfort on the part of the distribution/public relations nexus with Phillips’ forthright exploration of Findley’s themes of masculinity in crisis, including bountiful beefcake—though the crucial scene of Robert’s rape by Canadian soldiers was a little too tactfully elided. All the same, Carver is excellent as the young officer who can’t face up to human mortality or his own desires, and, who, transported to the trenches of Flanders, rescues his squadron from poison gas and a troop of cavalry horses in a fiery spectacle of martyrdom. This underrated Canadian queer film from a period when they didn’t grow on trees, unavailable in any format, is an essential link in our queer heritage–cinematic as well as literary.

Findley and his partner Bill Whitehead, their life together as well as their collaborative relationship, are astutely, unabashedly portrayed in the NFB biodoc Timothy Findley: Anatomy of a Writer (Terence Macartney-Filgate, 1992, 58).