Christopher and His Kind, a BBC film released recently should be a perfect companion piece if you liked the Liza Minelli extravaganza Cabaret (1972). The film was based on Christopher Isherwood’s writings on his days in Berlin in 1931, which was a haven for hedonistic pleasure for gay men and also the hotbed of the rising powers of the Nazis in the last days of Weimar Republic. (The same background was brilliant explored in another brilliant stage play made into a movie, Bent (1995), staring Clive Owen.)
Now, Christopher and His Kind follows the real material that gave rise to the fictional story. Based on Isherwood autobiography, as he claimed, written from his memory, the film gives us the real-life inspiration for Sally — Jean Rose, a tuneless singer, played perfectly by Imogen Poots. And a younger version of Isherwood himself becomes the stand in for Michael York’s character in the ’72 movie. But, the real life Isherwood is more naive, more selfish, more English, and more horny and more everything, and as another real life character W H Auden tells him, somebody who is only love with himself.
Apart from his friendship with Auden, then Jean Rose and a Jewish businessmen, Isherwood also goes through two love affairs, the second one with Heinz, a German, whom he brings with him to England to disastrous consequences. And frankly, all this makes for good drama.
One interesting part of the film is the historical reality of Berlin in 1930, where there are sites of abundant pleasure for the foreigners, where the locals are suffering from economic depression, and where the Hitler is gathering power. There cannot be a better dramatic background, and as the film insists it was all real.
Perhaps it was, and it sheds an interesting light on Isherwood’s personality. Here is a man who could not love anyone other than himself (perhaps he tried), who a few decades later would meet a young man in American with whom he would form a life-long relationship. This relationship between Isherwood and Don Bachardy was the subject of the beautiful documentary Chris & Don: A Love Story (2008).
In the recent years, Isherwood has been reclaimed by the media. Another example is Tom Ford’s stylistic A Single Man (2009), staring a wonderful Colin Firth.