Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 34c - Historic Lesbians on the Screen: What We Love - Transcript
(Originally aired 2019/05/18 - listen here)
Between last year’s movie The Favourite, the current HBO mini-series Gentleman Jack, and the recent sapphic take on Emily Dickinson, Wild Nights with Emily, we seem to be living in a golden age of historical lesbians on the screen. I plan to add more coverage of these movies and tv shows in this podcast--though I confess I won’t go so far as to subscribe to HBO solely for the sake of seeing Gentleman Jack at release.
To kick off this plan, I asked some of the folks on the Lesbian Talk Show facebook group to share their favorite shows. The responses covered quite a swathe of release dates and settings.
It’s not at all surprising that Sarah Waters came in for a lot of love. Brenda Murphy says, “Tipping the Velvet. And of course Fingersmith. Also, there is an adaptation of Fingersmith set in Korea during the Japanese occupation called The Handmaiden that I love.”
Tipping the Velvet is, of course, the picaresque tale of an oyster-seller’s daughter who falls for a cross-dressing stage performer in Victorian England. The 2002 British miniseries was followed three years later by another, darker Sarah Waters miniseries, Fingersmith. Also set in Victorian England, it follows two young women through layers of deception and fraud that turn your understanding of the plot inside out. The Japanese version, The Handmaiden, keeps the central plot but translates it to a different setting.
Our fearless leader Sheena comments, “The mini series adaptation of Fingersmith was simply gorgeous.” And goes on to say, “I loved the film version of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister.”
This would be the 2010 movie about early 19th century lesbian Anne Lister which mostly focuses on an earlier part of her life than the new miniseries.
Alexis Jackson reccomends If These Walls Could Talk 2. Calling it, “My favorite lesbian movie ever!”
If These Walls Could Talk was something of a high-concept series, telling multiple independent short stories set in the same house. The second movie in the series focused on three lesbian stories, representing three generations of women, from the 1960s though 2000.
Elizabeth Andersen is overflowing with recommendations. “One our LGBT film festival will be showing next month is Vita and Virginia about Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. I'm excited to see it. Orlando because Tilda Swinton was marvelous.”
These two go together well, of course, because the movie Orlando is based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, about an immortal, gender-shifting character born in the 16th century and watching the world go by for three centuries. Woolf’s brilliant and experimental writing was ahead of its time in the early 20th century. Her complex personal life included romantic relationships with several women, but the relationship with fellow author Vita Sackville-West was particularly inspiring for both women.
Sarah Hunczak recommends The Hours, which has another Virginia Woolf connection, being a study of how Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway affects three generations of women who connect with its themes. (And, I mean, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore -- what other reason do you need to watch it?)
Margaret Snow recommends Miss Marks and Miss Woolley, but I can’t find a movie by that name and I think she must mean the book of that title. She notes it’s “A biography of former Smith College President and her partner. One wrote travelogues. They had a beautiful home on Lake Champlain that I got to tour once. Owned by a cousin's Aunt. Inspirational to see women living and succeeding on their own in the 1940's.”
The two met at Wellesley College in the 1890s when Woolley was a professor there. You’ve probably heard the term “Boston marriage” for women in life-long romantic partnerships in the later 19th and early 20th century, but the label “Wellesley marriage” was also popular, in reference to the number of female couples among the faculty of that woman’s college. Marks became a professor at Mount Holyoke College and Woolley became president of Mount Holyoke the same year. They were a couple for 55 years. Their story would definitely make a great movie, but I can’t find any mention of it having been done yet.
Massachusetts around the turn of the 20th century is also the setting of another movie recommended by Elizabeth Andersen. She notes, “Packed in a Trunk is a documentary, but so good. Edith Lake Wilkinson, born in 1868, was an artist who lived and painted in Provincetown, Massachusetts during the early decades of the 20th century until she was committed to an asylum for the mentally ill in 1924. Wilkinson's great-niece wrote and directed.”
Elizabeth finishes out her recommendations with, “Carol, Reaching for the Moon, and Albert Nobbs.”
Carol is the 2015 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, perhaps the first lesbian novel of the pulp era to dare to claim a happy ending. Reaching for the Moon appears to be more in the tragic vein, a Brazilian bio-pic about American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Albert Nobbs was also limited to the art-house circuit back in 2012. Starring Glenn Close, it’s the story of a woman in late 19th century Ireland passing as a man to work as a butler in a hotel. Her imagination is opened to new possibilities when she encounters another passing woman and her wife.
Meredith Santiago recommends Aimee & Jaguar and notes, “I haven’t seen it yet, but Wild Nights With Emily looks interesting. I’d be curious to hear your take on that movie and on Emily Dickinson.”
That definitely sounds like a request to do another pair of shows like I did for Queen Anne and The Favourite! I can’t find clear information on how to find Wild Nights with Emily. Wikipedia claims it premiered in March 2018 but then says it was released just last month in April 2019. Movies.com knows nothing...but wait. The website for the movie says it’s playing right now at several art-house theaters in my area. Anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area want to get together for a movie? I mean, I’ll probably have gone ahead and seen it by the time this podcast airs, but I could see it again. Seriously -- find me on social media and let’s set something up.
Elizabeth Anderson comments, “Yes! I don't know why I spaced on that one. I've seen it twice, and it's one I recommend without reservation.” And she provides a link for an interview she did with the director last June for her show The Tenth Voice. I’ll put the link in the show notes. And speaking of show notes, I’ll include links to the IMDB entries for all these movies in the notes. So look forward to more movie content in the podcast -- probably coordinated with essays about the historic context. And if you’d like to be a guest and talk in depth about lesbian historic movies, drop me a note and let me know.