This is the third review of a film shown at this year’s NEWFEST in New York City…
Screenplay by Ron Nyswaner
The eight-episode miniseries Fellow Travelers written by TV and movie writer Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia; episodes of Ray Donovan and Homeland), examines the attraction between two men employed by powerful U.S. Senators during the 1950s Red Scare. Hawkins Fuller (Matt Bomer) is a highly esteemed staffer for Senator Wesley Smith (Linus Roache), a principled opponent of anti-Communist demagogues, like Senator Joe McCarthy (Chris Bauer) and his henchman Roy Cohn (Will Brill). Timothy Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey) is a junior staffer in Senator McCarthy’s office, a practicing Catholic, and loyal to his boss out of a sense of duty. “Hawk” meets the younger “Tim” and confidently assumes his sexual prerogatives. Yet discretion is the watchword in the paranoid atmosphere of the day. While both men remain closeted, Hawk’s seductive domination of the nice Catholic boy leaves little to the imagination. But temperamental differences, and opposed political and moral values, eat away at their mutual desire and shaky sense of trust. Hawk marries Senator Smith’s conventional daughter, the attractive Lucy Smith (Allison Williams), while the rebuffed Tim enlists in the armed services. A similarly mismatched couple offers an intriguing counterpoint. An African American newspaper reporter working the Capitol beat, Marcus Gaines (Jelani Alladin), a manly closet case, falls for a black drag performer, Frankie Hines (Noah Ricketts). Succumbing to the brash and overt Frankie challenges Marcus’s masculinity as a Black man. The eight episodes track Hawk and Tim, and Hawk’s marriage to Lucy, as the story moves into the first decade of the AIDS calamity. Individual episodes examine the deceptions and lies of the closet and the ethical compromises that ruin friendships, scar marriages, and wound sons and daughters. Bomer gives a strong account of a deeply compromised man, while Jonathan Bailey (of Bridgerton fame), his handsomeness disguised behind large glasses, wears Tim’s timidity but essential honor like a glove. Fellow Travelers is an often-harrowing account of political demagoguery destroying queer lives.
Allen Ellenzweig, a longtime contributor to this magazine, is a cultural writer based in New York City.