The Lost Language of Cranes is a 1991 British television film directed by Nigel Finch. Made by the BBC for their Screen Two series; it is an adaptation of the 1986 novel of the same name by David Leavitt.
Whereas the novel is set in New York with American characters, the film takes place in London. Though most of the characters in the film are British, the characters of Elliot, Geoffrey and Winston are American, and the story is essentially that of the novel.
Philip Benjamin is a 20-something middle-class Londoner who works in publishing. Unbeknownst to his parents, Philip is gay and he decides to "come out" to them. His parents are taken aback by the news and his mother, Rose, says that she will need time to come to terms with it. However, the revelation has a far greater impact on his father, Owen, who at first seems accepting of his son's revelation but later begins to cry. Although he has been married to Rose for years, Owen is also secretly gay, and makes clandestine visits to gay bars and gay adult cinemas.
Meanwhile, Philip's boyfriend, an American named Elliot, receives a visit from his adoptive parents Derek and Geoffrey, the gay couple who raised him. Soon after their visit, Elliot decides he no longer wants a relationship with Philip and moves to Paris. Philip remains friends with Elliot's female flatmate, Jerene, a PhD student who is writing her thesis on languages and behaviour. Her research includes the secret language that a pair of young twins created between themselves and also the case of a neglected young child who began emulating the movements of construction cranes as this was the only thing he could see out of his bedroom window and therefore his only interaction with the outside world at a developmental age.
Owen and Philip go out for a meal and Owen asks Philip questions about his sexuality and how people know that they are gay. He says that he is asking because he has a colleague at the university where he works, an attractive man named Winston, and wondered if he was gay. Owen says he will invite Winston round for dinner because Philip might like him. However, on the evening of the dinner party, it becomes clear to Rose that Owen is the one who is actually attracted to Winston. She later confronts him which leads to Owen admitting his sexuality to her. Owen goes to stay with Philip and finally tells his son about himself.Brian Cox as Owen
Angus Macfadyen as Philip
Eileen Atkins as Rose
Corey Parker as Elliot
Richard Warwick as Frank
Cathy Tyson as Jerene
Rene Auberjonois as Geoffrey
John Schlesinger as Derek
Ben Daniels as Robin
Nigel Whitmey as Winston
Brian Cox was nominated for a BAFTA Television Award for Best Actor
The film is notable for its graphic (for the time) depiction of homosexuality for a television production and predates the equally graphic Tales Of The City television adaptations and Queer As Folk by several years. Although made for television, the film was initially screened at the London Film Festival in November 1991 and was first screened on British television (BBC Two) in February 1992.
The film was shown in the U.S. on PBS in June 1992, but was censored for both its television airing and its VHS release. PBS was coming under fire by conservative groups in the early 1990s for presenting programming showing homosexuality and nudity. The following excerpt was originally published in Current, 13 April 1992: "To ease concerns among wary affiliates, [...] Great Performance's Cranes already has been edited for the American audience, losing frontal nudity."
The uncensored film is available on Region 1 DVD in the U.S., and on Region 2 DVD in The Netherlands. Despite its being a BBC production, it has not been released on DVD in the UK; it has been scheduled for release several times but has been postponed indefinitely.