Ang Lee's 2005 film is set in 1963 initially, but spans twenty years in the lives of two Wyoming shepherds who have a homosexual love for one another frustrated by their own fears of how society will react toward them.
Heath Ledger plays the more reticent of the two men, Ennis Del Mar. He was brought up by his brother and sister and has had quite a hard life. Jake Gyllenhaal is the more forthright Jack Twist, who initiates the physical relationship between them. After their initial summer together spent up on Brokeback Mountain guarding thousands of sheep from the wolves (is there a metaphor there, I wonder?), they don't see each other for four years, by which time they are both married (to Dawson's buddy Michelle Williams and The Princess Diaries' Anne Hathaway — not, incidentally, Shakespeare's wife, who I believe died some time ago).
They claim to be old fishing buddies and swanny off to the mountains two or three times a year for the next twenty years. Ennis doesn't have the courage to come out and live on a ranch together because he saw as a child the savage vigilante murder of a gay man.
It's difficult to judge this film fairly: I came to it late with so many preconceptions, although I had tried to avoid reviews so I could form my own opinion on it. It's always labeled "the gay cowboy movie", but it's not: they guard sheep — although there is a plethora of Stetson action, thumbs in belt loops, boots, and all-round Marlboro ad posing.
Contrary to what I've been told, this is not one of the best or most important films in cinema history (never trust an Australian's taste, if that isn't oxymoronic enough). There are more sensible and sensitive treatments of gay relationships in The Crying Game and — although I confess I haven't seen it — My Beautiful Launderette.