Is bookworm Gene secretly in love with his unobtainable schoolmate Phineas in John Knowles's perpetually popular novel A Separate Peace? Now gay TV viewers can ask themselves that question while watching a new movie adaptation of the book, debuting on Showtime on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
Directed by Peter Yates (Breaking Away), the film stars J. Barton (Legally Blonde 2) as Gene Forster, a Southern-bred teenager who's a top student at a New England prep school in 1943. Gene, who is the narrator of the novel, falls under the spell of charismatic athlete Phineas (newcomer Toby Moore), whom he comes to suspect may be trying to sabotage his academic achievement. Their heated friendship and unspoken rivalry leads to a tragic accident.
There's nothing overtly gay about the tale, but Gene's intensely emotional narration, including loving descriptions of Phineas's physique, has had gay readers parsing its subtext since the book was first published in 1959.
Previous dramatic adaptations have included a 1972 film version with then-heartthrob Parker Stevenson (The Hardy Boys) and a one-man theatrical version adapted by Los Angeles actor Brian Foyster and performed by him for gay-dominated audiences at such venues as the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.
Will Showtime's new adaptation shed new light on the novel's homoeroticism? Here's a clue: The screenplay for this adaptation was written by Wendy Kesselman, best known for the film version of her play Sister My Sister, about a pair of incestuous lesbian sibling maids.