Ten Must-See British LGBT Films of the Last Fifty Years
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
The story of a man caught between two lovers - one male, one female - was the first film to feature a gay kiss. It's one of the finest examples of British social realist cinema and reached a surprising level of mainstream success given that it came out only 4 years after decriminalisation (it featured stars like Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson, and earned multiple Oscar & Bafta nominations). It demonstrates that, while lawmakers were still blustering about deciding what was legally 'proper', real people's lives and sexualities were far more complex.
While it avoids depicting gay life as unrelentingly stigmatised and miserable, Nighthawks is a frank exploration of the double lives led by many gay people at a time when homosexuality was still taboo, with the protagonist balancing teaching by day and cruising by night. It is frightenly accurate in its portrayal of queer life pre-HIV/AIDS. Despite the ignorance with which homosexuality was then viewed, Nighthawks is almost painful in its lack of polemic.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Examines the intersection between race and sexuality which, even since the film's release, has remained largely overlooked. It doesn't get too dramatic about its gay sub-plot; instead, the romance between a young Asian man and a skinhead simply adds another dimension to a poignant examination of identity in multicultural Britain. It's also notable for a superb early performance by the recently-retired Daniel Day Lewis.
Prick Up Your Ears (1988)
Based on John Lahr’s biography of the Joe Orton, Gary Oldman plays Orton, and Alfred Molina plays his partner, Kenneth. Together, the pair endure artistic squalor, even prison, in the 1950s before Orton finds success in the 1960s. The film is told through the eyes of family and friends as Lahr researches his biography. Orton's work was important in itself but so was his attitude to his sexuality. With graphic scenes of public sex, the movie is a rwo-fingered salute to Thatcherite hypocrisy.
Edward II (1991)
An experimental take on the classic play by Kit Marlow, Derek Jarman's cult film is quintessential 'Queer Cinema'. Shot on a tight budget, it was also the closest Jarman got to mainstream success. Jarman is exact as he identifies the homophobia, snobbery and violence of modern Britain. By re-examining history through a queer lens, it represents a time when LGBT artists were bursting out of the shadows and venturing where other filmmakers feared to tread.
The Crying Game (1992)
Not from the outset a film you'd expect to have LGBT themes - it's all about guilt and retribution as a member of the IRA finds himself falling for the girlfriend of the British soldier he killed. This means the sudden twist (SPOILER - although it was so hyped at the time that this isn't really a spoiler anymore) that said girlfriend was born male, feels even more refreshing. Using a trans person's identity for shock value could be seen as sensationalist, but the unlikely bond that develops between the pair actually becomes the saving grace of an occasionally uneven film. It proves how, far from being a risk, LGBT themes can actually enrich a story.
My Summer of Love (2004)
If My Beautiful Laundrette presented the intersection between sexuality and race, My Summer of Love presents the intersection between sexuality and class, as two girls from opposite sides of the tracks are pulled together in the kind of intense bond only ever experienced in youth. It's a bond that's exhilarating, erotic, and eventually dangerous, promising to send them down very different paths.
Imagine Me & You (2005)
Possibly a more lightweight addition, but it's nice to see that homosexuality can inspire comedy as well as soul-searching drama. When a newlywed bride forms an instant attraction to another woman, she's thrown into sudden doubt over her sexuality, in a sweet film that never trivialises its subject matter, but never forgets to laugh about it too.
Beautifully written and directed, Weekend is a low-key indie romance which offers an accurate but affecting portrayal of 21st-century gay life. The two men who spend the titular weekend together are shaped by their sexuality but not defined by it. Despite the ambiguous ending, after watching the pair come to understand each other, it's hard to not find yourself rooting for them.
Because the only thing better than a bunch of homosexuals is a bunch of homosexuals protesting against Thatcher. Pride tells the true story of the unlikely partnership formed between the inhabitants of a Welsh village and members of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). It's a testament to shared values and what can be achieved when seemingly different communities stand together. The result is uniquely British: moving, but downright joyous.
And an extra one...
Reportedly the first British film to use the word "homosexual" in its dialogue, Victim fills the hiatus between the Wolfenden Report and decriminalisation. Where the film succeeds is in its sympathetic portrayal of gay and bisexual men when it was still a crime to have consenting gay sex: the fragility and danger of theirs lives is depicted remorselessly but they are not just victims. Not just informative, it is a film of intrinsic artistic merit: a noirish whodunnit that is moody and sinister, Dirk Bogarde's performance is perhaps his best.
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