This excellent biopic stars Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey, an etymologist who switched his studies from gall wasps to human copulation, conducting the first scientific research into the sexual behaviour of American men and women. In so doing, he scandalised a nation steeped in ignorance and denial and laid the ground work for the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Written and directed by Bill Condon - who made Gods and Monsters a couple of years ago - Kinsey is a witty, liberal, highly accomplished piece of moviemaking which celebrates sexual diversity but doesn't ignore the emotional, moral and social confusion which can result. Neeson brings immense charm and charisma to the role, his best since Schindler, and there is fine support from Laura Linney as the woman who woos him, the redoubtable Peter Sarsgaard, who challenges the scientist to experiment with his own impulses, Timothy Hutton and Chris O'Donnell (remember them?) as research assistants, and a wittily-cast Tim Curry as devout disciple of sex miseducation.
Writing about this movie after its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last autumn, I said it would be fascinating to see how the movie would fare in the increasingly conservative moral climate in the US. That sexual puritanism has only intensified after the re-election of George Bush, to the point where Christian groups have attacked such notorious subversives as SpongeBob Squarepants and Shrek for conditioning American kids to accept homosexuality and cross-dressing.
Worse, according to news reports Bush's new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, used her first day in office to write to the US equivalent of the BBC, PBS, threatening to withdraw government funds if they aired an episode of childrens' show Postcards from Buster in which Buster (an animated rabbit) learns about the manufacture of maple syrup from a little girl who has two mothers - a fact the show only mentions in passing ('That's a lot of mommies', remarks Buster.) The episode has not been broadcast.
Naturally, the self-appointed moral nannies were appalled by Kinsey. For those determined to push the social clock back to the standards of repression, ignorance and hypocrisy of the 1950s, the movie was seen as a threat comparable to Kinsey's original publication of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (in 1953 George Bush's spiritual mentor, evangelist Billy Graham, declared that 'it is impossible to estimate the damage this [Kinsey's] book will do to the nation's already deteriorating morals'). The US release of the film was blackened with an entirely fallacious scandal that it (or at any rate, Kinsey himself) was an apologist for paedophiles.
Anyone who sees the movie will have no hesitation in rubbishing that claim - unfortunately, not many Americans bothered to see for themselves. At last count, Kinsey had made less than $10 million at the US box-office. Not coincidentally, it was also overlooked by the Academy Awards (sole exception, Laura Linney in the Best Supporting Actress category). In this country, the London Underground has done its bit by banning posters for the movie.
One thing the film makes crystal clear. However complicated and messy the permissive society Kinsey helped create often seems, the intolerant alternative is a prescription for misery.