Don't Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, BBC Four | TV reviews, news & interviews
Don't Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, BBC Four
Poignant Swedish drama depicts the early days of AIDS
The bleak opening of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves is set in a nursing home where a man is dying of AIDS, tended by nurses who themselves know next to nothing of the disease. The phrase one nurse utters as a warning gives this Swedish drama its title: any human contact, even if it’s intended as the smallest act of kindness, risks passing on the infection. Simon Kaijser’s three-part drama will show us the varieties of response across society to these extreme new circumstances.
It begins in the Swedish countryside, where Rasmus (Adam Pålsson) has grown up happily, surrounded by loving family and the kind of childhood incidents that wouldn’t seem out of place in My Life as a Dog. But like the mysterious white elk that interrupts the family’s forest rambling one day, Rasmus has grown up different – he’s gay. And at 19, in the first flower of his curly-haired, innocent beauty, he’s raring to get away to Stockholm, nominally to study, but much more to explore the scene in the capital city, which he starts the moment he gets off the train.
they include some screen moments that are hard to watch for their emotional intensity
One of the first contacts he makes in this sexually free (and sometimes explicit) society – AIDS has not yet begun to inhibit behaviour – is the camp and cynical Paul (Simon J. Berger). He’s the centre of a group of close friends that has formed itself, we feel, to replace their actual families; they congregate at Paul’s hedonistic Christmas dinners (pictured, below right), and as time passes, and AIDS wreaks its toll, we see their numbers dwindle.
The first time Rasmus attends he’s already lost much of his shyness, something you could hardly say of the new friend he makes there, Benjamin (Adam Lundgren). The latter’s background more than explains that reticence: Benjamin’s a Jehovah’s Witness, whose life to date has been centred around his community and his duties knocking on doors to try to interest others in his faith. When Benjamin knocks on Paul’s door, a different kind of conversion takes place: the latter, rich in the wisdom of the world, shocks the young man by his accurate verdict on Benjamin’s hitherto barely-explored sexuality.
That meeting of the two young men is the central point of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears…: we’ll see their relationship grow, with its joys and tribulations, and as their contacts with their (blood) families recede, the important of their quasi-family and community will increase. The details of different strata of Swedish society, from the almost wilful innocence of provincial life through the enclosed world of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the sexual freedom of Stockholm, are beautifully observed. Though the subject itself is one we know well enough from elsewhere (Angels in America springs to mind, though there’s no sense of wider political activism here), it’s propelled forwards by a powerful emotional truth. Just because the story's been told before doesn't reduce its impact.
There’s no doubt about the direction the drama will be taking: after this first episode, “Love”, the follow-ups are titled “Disease” and “Death” respectively. They include some screen moments that are hard to watch for their emotional intensity, as we see how parts of Swedish society, for all the liberality that we often associate with that country, remained conservative and small-minded when faced with the phenomenon of AIDS. “It happened here in this city… like a war fought in peacetime,” the narratorial voice remembers as each episode opens, and casualties will be high. The only consolation, if that’s in any way the right word, is that Don’t Ever Wipe Tears… treats its characters and their situations with respect, according them dignity even when life has done its utmost to take that away.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Documentary mainly about clearing drains comes up smelling of roses
New culture minister Sajid Javid is a fan of 'Star Trek'. But has he been to one of these?
Quiz show for unashamed brainiacs returns
Can a new docusoap puts a human face on an unpopular profession?
Avuncular presenter goes so far back he's in danger of being lost in the mists of time
Uproarious saga of broadcasting's Eighties new dawn
The ghost of murder past returns to stalk the present in two-part psychological thriller
Mental as well as physical wounds in Sarah Phelps's haunting World War One field hospital drama
Destination fundament: ironists Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back on tour
Disappointing film about a fascinating course for young jockeys
Stage and TV veteran turns to the experiences of nurses on the Western Front in 'The Crimson Field'
The point missed on the tangled webs of treachery in over-lavish docu-drama