A gay icon for his drawings of young men in leather, the artist known as ‘Tom of Finland’ was indeed from Finland – but not actually named Tom. As this affectionate, ambitious biopic suggests, the experiences of Touko Laaksonen in many ways encapsulate the trajectory of changing values affecting the gay community since WWII. His experiences in the Finnish army may have sparked his erotic take on men in uniform, but the Cold War climate after the war in Finland was anything but liberated when it came to being gay – making Laaksonen’s essentially life-affirming output way ahead of the curve.
With numerous time shifts to get through, Pekka Strang’s stoic central performance gets rather sidelined, and there’s a bit too much biopic shorthand throughout, yet it’s genuinely cheering to see him take his art out of the drawer and sell it internationally, eventually meeting an army of leather-clad fans whose lives he’s changed when he visits ’70s California. As a film, it’s slightly stodgy, and rather too chaste, but his was definitely a life worth celebrating.