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It used to be that lesbians were either totally invisible when it came to film and TV, or we appeared as dysfunctional, messed up or plainly psychotic. I have been out since the 1970s and I grew up with no decent role models or representation of my tribe.

Recently, our screens have become adorned with Sapphic storylines, usually involving intense portrayals of women in love, or hot girl-on-girl action. Unlike heteros, we rarely get to do everyday things on screen, like go to supermarkets or the cinema.

It is interesting that the lesbian is coming into fashion in historical movies even though, today, being a lesbian is very unfashionable. Lesbian characters now pop up in soaps, movies, dramas and are often there as women who happen to be lesbian, not because of it.

There is also a growing trend for shoehorning titillating lesbian storylines into historical dramas, which is billed as "feminist" but looks suspiciously like a ploy to draw in men. After all, there can’t be that many heterosexual males clambering for the remote control when a costume drama pops up on TV.

Straight men often enjoy the idea of women getting it on. I know this from decades of being an out lesbian and having to put up with men asking, “What do you do in bed?” I lost count of the times when, in my younger days, I was asked by men if I would consider a threesome, or if I would perform a sex show with my girlfriend for him. Just look at the Friends episode in which Chandler and Joey give up their apartment for the opportunity to watch two of their heterosexual female friends indulge in a brief, unromantic kiss.

The 2020 film Ammonite is based on correspondence between the 19th-century palaeontologist Mary Anning and her female friends. Director Francis Lee has said he was “fascinated to set this film in a period that was totally patriarchal and where women were completely owned by their fathers or their husbands”.

Starring Kate Winslet as Mary Anning and Saoirse Ronan as her lover Charlotte Murchison, the cliches come thick and fast. Mary is older and poor, Charlotte is young and wealthy. The age difference conjures up an uncomfortable mother-daughter dynamic often seen in films about lesbians. Look at The Killing of Sister George, a film from the 1960s based on an abusive relationship between an older butch predatory lesbian and a young, childlike woman.

In Ammonite, geologist Roderick Murchison asks Anning to take his wife Charlotte under her wing: “My wife, she hasn’t been at all well of late. She suffers from melancholia. I want her to walk the shoreline with you.” There are plenty of crashing waves, which I thought had gone out with the demise of the lesbian publishing Naiad Press.

There are also tightened corsets, bleak landscapes, the word ‘beautiful’ whispered breathlessly, as well as the requisite lingering looks between the women. As in Sister George, the mother-child dynamic is ever-present, with Mary treating Charlotte like a substitute mother, tucking her into bed. “You care for me like your child,” Charlotte says.

Then there is the new Channel 5 historical thriller Anne Boleyn, which features a kiss between the Queen and Jane Seymour. Supposedly through a feminist lens, much time is devoted to showing Anne’s sexual hold over Henry in a vaguely sado (her) masochistic (him) fashion. Her brains and wit take second place.

Whilst I love my lot being represented in popular culture, and there can be no doubt that we all need good role models, lesbians deserve better than to be used as cheap titillation.

[–] Lolo 11 points (+13|-2)

I thought Ammonite was pretty bleak and unnecessarily boring. After I watched it, I read Mary Anning's wiki page and she was a trailblazer. There are sooo many interesting things they could have shown in the movie. Her life story would have made an amazing film.

Why do male historical figures get films about their brilliance and ingenuity, while women get films about moping, staring at waves and ~lesbian sex~?

Funny, just want to point out "the imagination game" about Alan Turing had ZERO gay scenes 😭

[–] SarahTheGreen 1 points (+3|-2) Edited

Wait, that's who the younger woman is in this film? (I haven't seen it – was put off by the lesbian angle.) Roderick Murchison's wife, who encouraged him in pursuing geology, who was, iirc, already a naturalist herself, who did field work with him????? (And who has her own wikipedia page). At least they didn't toss in Anne Phillips for a three-way.

Double ouch. It's not only an insult to Mary Anning, but also to Charlotte Murchison.

And I don't know about melancholia, but she was dealing with the after-effects of malaria. Any mention of that in the film?


I don't want to avoid the lesbian angle, but as a straight former-geology student, I can't really comment on it, and the above was my initial reaction. Shoehorning in a lesbian relationship into a historical friendship appears to shortchange everyone. I'm glad to read this take on it.

[–] SarahTheGreen 4 points (+4|-0)

Just to clarify, in case I confused anyone. I would be quite happy to watch/read any sort of fictional historical lesbian romance (and have). My objection was taking what was a friendship between two real women (and pioneering geologists to boot) and turning it into something that is not on record.

I guess I don't trust the intentions of the writers on that story.

[–] tymps 8 points (+8|-0)

This might be a slight tangent, but man, I'm really getting kind of tired of almost every major lesbian movie being a period piece lately. Don't get me wrong, I've liked some of them and some have been well done, but I've started to question it as a trend. I'd love to see more actual lesbian movies taking place in the present as well. I get tired of these movies painting lesbianism as this, like, chaste thing of the past. We're still here! I know the TQ crowd doesn't want us to exist, but we're still here! It seems like the majority of modern lesbian storylines you find are teen girls on TV shows, and while that's great, I want to see some more depictions of adult lesbians in the present.