LONDON — Fashion designer Tom Ford has made a seamless transition to filmmaker with “A Single Man,” the soulful, immaculately styled story of a grieving college professor in 1960s California.
Ford never doubted his abilities — though he admits plenty of other people did.
“It’s funny, because everyone was so supportive,” Ford said. “And now that I’ve made the film, quite a few people have said to me, ‘Isn’t it nice you did that when everyone was laughing at you?”’
They’re not laughing now.
“A Single Man” has earned strong reviews and last week received Golden Globe nominations for its score and the performances of Julianne Moore and Colin Firth.
Firth won the best-actor prize at the Venice Film Festival for his performance as George Falconer, a gay Englishman in Los Angeles mourning the death of his longtime lover in a car accident.
Ford — who directed, co-wrote and co-produced the film — has been praised for his subtle adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel, which recounts a day in George’s life through seemingly unfilmable interior monologue.
Unable to see a future without his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode), George resolves to end it all. He gets a gun and starts to set his affairs in order.
Along the way he encounters his best friend, Charley (Julianne Moore, sporting a wardrobe to die for), and Kenny (Nicholas Hoult, all grown up since he played the boy in “About a Boy”), a young student who takes a slightly stalkerish interest in George.
It’s all remarkably assured, but then the Texas-born Ford has never lacked ambition. Now 48, he transformed luxury brand Gucci in the 1990s before founding his own Tom Ford label. Filmmaking seemed like a small step.
“I’ve just never let the thought of failure stop me when there was something I felt that I wanted to do,” he said.
“A Single Man” is the work of a film fanatic, a love letter to cinema. George’s monochrome life bursts into Technicolor when he makes contact with other people.
Ford includes visual salutes to directors from Alfred Hitchcock to Pedro Almodovar to Wong Kar-wai. Even “The Wizard of Oz” gets a reference. These are not the acts of a director afraid to be compared to his idols.
The movie’s stylish surface offers all you would expect from a fashionista’s film: precise period detail, handsome actors and gorgeous outfits that capture the early 1960s in all their sartorial glory, from pin-sharp suits to pink mohair sweaters.
“I don’t know how to help myself,” Ford said with a laugh.
Many reviewers have been surprised by the film’s restraint, the unflashy way it depicts an intelligent, ironic, emotionally reserved man consumed by grief. It’s a tribute to Firth, who gives the performance of his career, but also to Ford.
Ford says that, when he chose the project, “believe it or not, I didn’t care about the style. It’s layered on to support the characters. But when looking for the right project, it was the story, something worth telling. That’s what attracted me.”