It's not unusual that I find myself watching a movie based on a true story which was big news in the states but I had never heard off; well it is unsurprising being a Brit living in the UK. But often not having any knowledge of the true story can bring a unique perspective on a movie as it seems the norm that these true movies get reviews from those who have some sort of connection to the story. That brings me to the TV movie "Soldier's Girl" which is based on the true story of young soldier Barry Winchell who paid the ultimate price for who he fell in love with.
Barry Winchell (Troy Garity) arrives at the 101st Airborne Division where he finds himself sharing a room with he live wire Justin (Shawn Hatosy) who enjoys ragging on him. It is through Justin that he and the other men head to Visions a night club where he meets Calpernia (Lee Pace) a transgender performer. Despite fears Barry and Calpernia end up falling in love which angers Justin who uses a new young recruit to stir up trouble with rumours about a soldier and another man having sex. Over the weeks leading up to the 4th July Barry gets an increasing amount of harassment till he paid the ultimate price for who he loved.
As I said prior to watching "Soldier's Girl" I had no knowledge of the story of Barry Winchell and that allowed me to have no preconceived ideas of what to expect. What I watched was a surprising, thoughtful, hard hitting, touching and emotional movie which is certainly what you don't expect from a TV movie. How true it is to the real story I haven't got a clue but judging from the other opinions I have glanced at it seems it stays close to the truth.
Now I have already given the synopsis to the movie but to give you a better idea of what goes on you can split it into two halves. The first half is the refreshingly romantic story of Barry and Calpernia's love story, how they tentatively entered into it wary of what it would mean. It is to be honest one of the most beautiful portrayals of love you will see in a movie and director Frank Pierson manages to make it explicit but without ever feeling exploitative.
But then there is the second half of the movie which is the vicious campaign orchestrated by Justin against Barry. Again it is explicit holding nothing back when it comes to the language and attitudes it displays but again by no means exploitative. Trust me it will hit you hard how this 2nd half of the movie plays out whether you know the story or not.
Now a lot of praise goes to director Frank Pierson for keeping control of what easily could have turned into a camp movie. But praise also goes to the performances with Troy Garity and Lee Pace taking your breath away with their sensitive portrayal of Barry and Calpernia. And then there is Shawn Hatosy who's less than subtle bigoted hatred makes his character dangerous from the word go.
What this all boils down to is that "Soldier's Girl" is one of the most impressive TV movies you will ever see. But at the same time it is not an easy movie to watch because of the nature of the true story it is based upon.