As we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, now seems as good a time as any to remember another incurable virus which wrought havoc across the globe. Like Covid, HIV/AIDS appeared to come from nowhere and brought in its wake a stream of bigotry, misinformation and tragedy.
Unlike Covid, from which most people recover, an AIDS diagnosis in the 1980s was a death sentence. I remember attending around 20 funerals in two years. Those were horrible, terrifying times when impending death really was just a matter of chance; I recall my own test, more than 30 years ago, and the agonising two week wait for the results. I was lucky. Friends with exactly the same lifestyle were not so fortunate. I miss them as much today as I ever did: goodness knows what those bright, funny, talented people could have become.
Bren Gosling’s Moment of Grace, originally set for the stage but now reimagined as an online production filmed in the actors’ homes, is set against the backdrop of Diana, Princess of Wales’ first of many visits to a London AIDS unit. At a time when the British tabloids seemed to revel in the destructive powers of the “gay plague”, HRH insisted not only on meeting AIDS patients but also on shaking hands with them without gloves. This single simple action helped disabuse the general public of what today would be called “fake news”: that HIV could be contracted by touch, by sharing cutlery or even by being in the same room as a sufferer. Whether you’re a staunch royalist or a dyed-in-the-wool republican, it is impossible to deny the power of royalty to change perceptions.
Director Nicky Allpress’ three hander stars Luke Dayhill as Andrew, a patient, Lucy Walker-Evans as Jude, a nurse, and TV royalty Andrew Paul as Donnie, a firefighter with a connection to the action which becomes apparent as the story progresses. Some AIDS dramas can, on occasion, lean towards the sensational, but the truth is that the epidemic was so horrifically destructive that realism is all that is needed to portray the horror of those times.
Moment of Grace brilliantly juxtaposes the glamour of Diana with the bleakness of AIDS in the 80s and it’s impossible to praise the actors enough, each of them resisting any temptation to overact and letting Gosling’s script do the heavy lifting. The epidemic was bad enough: there’s no need to shout about it.
It is, of course, perfectly possible to learn the history of HIV and AIDS from books or documentaries but there’s nothing quite like the power of a drama to hit home. When you’re invested in characters the message becomes all the more powerful, and this faultless production never fails to deliver. Strongly recommended.
Watch Rob Harkavy’s interview with Lucy Walker-Evans and view the trailer here.
Moment of Grace is presented by Backstory Ensemble in association with The Actors Centre and The National HIV Story Trust. Watch it here.