Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister": a wealthy lesbian (secretly) challenges mores in early 19th Century England

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” (2010), directed by James Kent, tells the biographical story of one of history’s first lesbians, who would write about her experience. The movie is set all the way back in the early 19th Century in “Regency” (or pre-Victorian) England.

The title of the film refers to her 4-million word diaries, the most personal parts of which were written in a kind of manually encrypted code, anticipating the issues of cybersecurity today (even for Apple). The complete story of her life and of the many controversies in the way of getting her memoirs finally published in Britain is told in a BBC hour-long TV documentary included on the DVD, reviewed today on my TV Reviews blog.

But most of the actual substance of the film shows how much difficulty she had getting along with her family. Maxine Peake plays Anne, and she is constantly fighting off overtures from others to get her betrothed.  She also deals with psychological loss, right off the bat, when an early lover Marianna (Anna Madeley) accepts an arranged marriage with portly Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin), feeling “jealous” and wanting to believe that the relationship means something.  I know the feeling from my young adulthood.  Later, she “marries” (in 1833 terms) Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley), who still challenges her sometimes, about on insisting on questioning why the world is “the way it is” when it can’t be changed – circular reasoning.  Lister will inherit her Uncle Lister’s (Alan David) land estate, as he left no male heirs, and become a shrewd and independent business woman in the British coal industry.

The film certainly conveys a sense of how old-fashioned family values works:  everybody has to try to get married, so that everybody will find a partner. 

The film also challenges the more conventional view of 19th Century England as in the movies of novels by George Elliot and Jane Austen, both of whom had to deal with the social restrictions on the roles of (straight) women. 
The DVD is distributed by a company called “2 Entertain” which sounds like a variation of “Entertainment One”. The film was produced by the BBC, and the DVD had unusually longwinded anti-piracy warnings.  The film can be watched on Amazon for $4.99.

For a gay short film, try “The Golden Pin”, directed by Cuong Ngo (link).  A white college swimmer Ryan (Ben Bela Bohm) dates a Vietnamese teammate Long (Kris Duangphung). But the Asian man has family pressures to marry and have children because he is the only surviving son, and his father was the only family member to survive the American-ledn Vietnam War. A family heirloom helps solve the issue.  If there was mandatory depilation for the swimmers, it was limited to the torsos, fortunately.

Wikipedia attribution link for English countryside picture by Diliff under CCSA 3.0. 

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