Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed review | An incisive documentary

A picture of Rock Hudson, used in documentary Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed.
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Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed is a well researched and personal documentary that puts his story in the hands of people who knew him. 

Aside from his incredible screen presence, Hollywood actor Rock Hudson is arguably known for his complex and secretive personal life, which was eventually revealed when he became one of many victims of the 80s AIDs epidemic. During his life he was hounded by the press, with tabloids publishing a constant stream of gossip about his social life. Stephen Kijak’s new documentary, subtitled All That Heaven Allowed, puts Hudson’s story in the hands of biographers and personal friends in a moving and meticulously researched retelling of his life and career.

As we start from the very beginning of Hudson’s Hollywood career, it’s interesting to hear just how integral his sexuality was to his initial success. He may have always played the picture of masculinity, but voice over from biographers and old audio clips from producers reveal that Hudson ironically wouldn’t have broken into Hollywood without his connections to agents who were also gay. 

Universal Pictures digs into its archives to show various clips from Hudson’s films, from the early small parts in adventure films, to his establishment as a leading man in the movies of Douglas Sirk (while revealing through brilliant old interviews that Sirk wasn’t actually sure of Hudson’s talent himself). 

One of the most interesting parts of this film is seeing the contrast and connections between Hudson’s on-screen persona and his inner self, and how his roles changed over time to keep up the facade. In the time of Classical Hollywood and contracts with studios, there was a blurring of the two as well, and the movie digs into some of the ways that Universal encouraged Hudson to maintain his star image as a womaniser in his personal life. 

All of this is supported by commentary from historians, as well as archive interview footage with some of Hudson’s co-stars, friends and flings. As we get into the later years of his career, there are talking head interviews with men who knew him at that time, and they’re extremely candid and sometimes a bit filthy. But that works to enhance the feeling that this film is Hudson’s story told by the people who actually knew him. It perhaps lacks this intimacy at the beginning, as it features mainly audio clips, but as we get into the more technologically advanced eras of the star’s career there are more visual elements that make it feel more personal. 

Where the documentary ends is the really emotional part. As it uses friend’s diaries to put together the years leading up to Hudson’s death, it hammers home just how important he was in spurring people to action against AIDs. The public declaration of his diagnosis was far from ideal for him, but the figures revealed about the increase in funding and research in the year after his death are concrete proof that his legacy extends far beyond his Hollywood career. 

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed is released on digital platforms on 23rd October.

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