Historically, artists haven’t always held the most prestigious or reputable positions within societies. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be a gay homoerotic artist living in a country where homosexuality is illegal. Touko Valio Laaksonen was arguably the most influential gay erotic artist of the 20th century. Over four decades he drew thousands of pornographic images under the pseudonym Tom of Finland; becoming famous in gay communities around the world.
Touko (Pekka Strang) first becomes interested in the fetishism of uniformed men, and experiences his first sexual awakenings, whilst serving in the Finnish Army during World War II. After the war, and suffering from PTSD, he lives with his sister (Jessica Grabowsky) who takes care of him. Working in secret, he’s encouraged by her flatmate/his secret lover (Lauri Tilkanen) to send his pictures to a publisher in the US; where he goes on to become a major part of gay culture.
Tom of Finland is an elegantly made biographical drama about an artist who is not widely known outside of the gay community. Director Dome Karukoski avoids unnecessary titillation, without shying away from the language and directness of the images themselves. Strang is superb in the central role, surrounded by a great group of supporting players. Tom of Finland is a sumptuous portrait of a man forced to hide his light under a bushel.
Tom of Finland is out in cinemas from Friday.