The story of a gay culture icon is brought to life in Dome Karukoski’s biopic of Touko Laaksonen, the Finnish artist whose homoerotic drawings helped define gay aesthetics, capturing the growing gay confidence of the postwar era. Tom begins life as Touko, a promising illustrator in his native Finland who remains haunted by his harrowing experiences during World War Two. Equally plagued by the rampant, violent homophobia of Finnish society, he finds outlet in his uninhibited depictions of gay men, using as visual inspiration the uniformed machismo of the military and police that have so tormented him.
As his images of leather-clad beefcakes in erotic embrace begin to earn international attention, Touko finds himself rebranded as ‘Tom of Finland’, an unwitting star of the liberated gay scene in America, where he’s feted as a cult hero. Karukoski’s overdue account of this important figure in LGBT history is a handsomely mounted, endearingly accessible work that will appeal far beyond gay audiences. As well as an intriguing episode from art history, Touko’s story is also an inspiring example of how the effects of persecution can be reconfigured as an act of liberation.