‘Pride’… for a word that may arouse celebration, a growing number of LGBTQ+ individuals are nowadays quicker to frown at the term. Whilst Gay Pride began through rebellion and riots, today, corporate presence has come to characterise aspects of Pride month (see M&S’s Lettuce Guacamole Bacon Tomato sandwich). It is important for us – those of the LGBTQ+ community and allies alike – to counteract the growing erasure of queer voices and history from their commodification.
On the dawn of London’s Pride Parade (this Saturday 6 June), here are five of Britain’s most quintessential queer films to turn your attention to.
‘Victim’ depicts the threatening of barrister Melville Farr’s idyllic life on account of his associations with a young gay man. Farr himself, portrayed by Dirk Bogarde, is a closeted homosexual. Although, the film’s perhaps most moving tension lies in the knowledge of actor Bogarde’s closeted sexuality too.
The writers and director of this 60’s set noir film – the first of English language to use the word ‘homosexual’ – were indeed straight. However, ‘Victim’ was written in the wake of Wolfenden Report, which called for the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. The social significance of Basil Dearden’s film in its era is undeniable, yet even today we can learn from its courage to loudly depict gay experience.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
If a certain U2 song is the first thing to come to mind upon hearing this title, don’t fret; maybe Bono’s line “How long must we sing this song? ‘Cause tonight, we can be as one,” is the ideal stepping stone to this John Sclesinger directed feature. In this case, the song is one that over-dramatises sex and superiorises monogamy, to which ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ has no care to sing.
Sclesinger depicts artist Bob Elkin’s (Murray Head) two ongoing romantic relationships with recent divorcee Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) and doctor Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) respectively. Hirsh and Greville are aware of each other, and their separate intimacy with Elkin, yet neither hold any particular concern.
In contrast to attitudes still maintained today, even within the LGBTQ+ community, Elkin’s relationship with his bisexuality is deeply relaxed. He isn’t identified to be in a state of confusion or rebellion. Whilst it really shouldn’t be for this aspect, the film is indeed nothing short of revolutionary.
On the colour, French artist Yves Klein writes that “Blue is the invisible becoming visible. Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond the dimensions of which other colours partake.” The films of queer British director Derek Jarman are popular for their aversion to political and sexual oppression. In ‘Blue’, the director explores these aforementioned dimensions of colour and these sociopolitical issues on somehow widely accessible grounds.
In simplest terms, ‘Blue’ is a single shot filled by a saturated blue, underscored by conversations, names, stories, and other sounds. Jarman made the film whilst AIDS-related complications began to render him blind. But with ‘Blue’, he proves that losing sight does not equate to losing vision.
The director’s effort is described by many as a poem. It is at once a dreamlike experiment of the senses, as an intricate insight to queer suffering during the AIDS epidemic. For a film absent of naturalistic images, it is described by Christopher Nolan as “one of the most intimate films I’ve ever seen.”
Andrew Haigh’s ‘Weekend’ was filmed across two weeks, and is set over the course of 48 hours. And yet, capturing the intimate moments of post-hookup conversations and shared bicycle rides, nothing here is rushed or made pretentious. Watching the relationship of Russell and Glen unfold – the pair portrayed by Tom Cullen and Chris New respectively – is like watching a documentary.
Increasingly, cinema is exploring identity politics, with increased concern for diverse casts (be it by gender, race, sexuality, or more). In effect, let us take inspiration from visions like Haigh’s here. To Roger Ebert, “it underlines the difficulty of making connections outside our individual boxes of time and space.” Homosexuality is never shied from, and to call this ‘not a gay film’ would perhaps be redundant. Instead, ‘Weekend’ is to be treasured for its presentation of a gay relationship without sensationalisation.
Yes… Carol’s director is American, and its romance blossoms within the snow-dusted exteriors and Christmas-lit interiors of 1950’s New York. However, its production by British companies, delicate writing by English screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, and the bias of this article’s English writer are enough to edge it onto this list.
In ‘Carol’, pioneer of New Queer Cinema Todd Haynes unravels a love between Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) and Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) – one forbidden for reasons more complex than social laws. If ‘Victim’ is innovative in its explicit declaration of homosexuality, Carol explores what happens when one doesn’t believe that that simmering feeling that so obviously is love, could be love. The words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ needn’t be mentioned.
In turn, its genius lies in its manifestation of queerness and romance through silence, burning gazes, and alluringly nervous dialogue. And wouldn’t we all want our own romances scored by Carter Burwell, and lives costumed by Sandy Powell.