Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review- The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (DVD)

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
June 7, 2010
Historical/ Lesbian/ Biographical

Maxine Peake stars in a profoundly moving drama based on the real diaries of Anne Lister: a landowning woman who defied the conventions of her 19th century life to great scandal...for Anne was a lesbian. Her affair with 'soul mate' Marianna Belcombe keeps society guessing but when it is announced that Marianna is to be married to the older, corpulent and wealthy Charles Lawton, Anne is distraught.

Set in the small, elite world of high society, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is an inspiring story of 'the first modern lesbian' - a woman who challenged convention and was determined to simply be herself.

For Americans, this DVD is unavailable in region 1 currently. I bought it from Amazon UK for a grand total of $15 including shipping. It’s in PAL and region 2 format. I hacked my cheap CyberHome DVD player to play all regions so I knew I could watch it. I just got the DVD after 3 weeks of waiting, yes, it takes more than 3 weeks for a DVD to come from England. I guess that’s the free shipping version, it came over on a boat. Snort. Anyway, I was worried about the PAL part, but I popped it into the DVD and both my much older 27 inch analogue TV plus my new HD LCD TV played it no problema. I also tried it on my computer and all I had to do was change the region settings in my computer DVD program. So…that out of the way, I sat down to finally enjoy this film, which I’ve been salivating over.

OK, the first thing I have to say is that if I or anyone else was expecting a romanticized version of Anne Lister’s life and love story a la Jane Austin because this is from the same time period, this isn’t it. Apparently, Miss Anne Lister wasn’t all that as far as being a well disposed human goes and it does show in this story. She comes through as rather ruthless, sometimes cold and cruel, and passionate but in an aggressive, masculine way often and I didn’t feel much vulnerability that would have made her a more sympathetic person. Although I think the film was trying for a more human and romantic portrayal than was actually the case.

After watching the even more interesting special section wherein actress/writer Sue Perkins talks to historians and scholars who’ve studied and decoded the diaries and talked in depth about how Anne Lister managed her lifestyle and her sexuality within the social constructs of Regency era times, I got a better picture of the real Anne Lister and where she was coming from. And while my opinion didn’t change, it was far more interesting than the movie version. I also learned a lot more about Anne’s earlier life before the time the movie picked up on her life as well as the historical ramifications of her being a lesbian who definitely took on a male persona in her social circles.

Just a brief synopsis, the movie starts with Ann already having an affair and deeply in love with Marianna Belcombe, the woman who probably most affected Anne and who was the only one to seduce the usually sexually aggressive Anne. Marianna decides to marry a much older, but very rich man and this throws Ann into a tailspin of despair.

Anne tries to deal by trying seduce another woman, but is bored with her and when things finally come to a head between Anne and Marianna, who do steal moments for brief trysts, Anne finally decides to let go of that story. She then befriends a neighbor heiress Ann Walker and seduces her much in the way a man of status would seduce a wealthy heiress for the financial gain. She takes her as her wife and this cements her position in her business endeavors and her person as an out lesbian.

Outside of the romantic angles, of course suspicions of Anne’s sexuality within her social circle and her astute business acumen, along with her willingness to go head to toe with powerful male counterparts is shown in full light and her enemies use it against her to no avail. She fights the male dominated coal mining world to stand her ground and keep her own land as well as marrying and openly living with Ann Walker, acting as Ann's husband, something unprecedented at the time.

All of this was rather fascinating. At times I was unsure of the historical accuracies of things only because Anne Lister is a formidable woman who did unbelievable things for her time and social position as a woman, however, after watching the special section, which explains a lot of how it was all possible, it became a lot more interesting for me in the historical context.

About the movie itself, I do admit that it was lacking the sweetness, passion and heart that I felt with Tipping the Velvet. This movie came across as rather dry and I really didn’t feel the emotional connections between the characters except for maybe Tibbs, Anne's friend from early childhood who was always pining after Anne but was treated like crap by her.

This lack of connectedness might have had to do with who Anne Lister was herself, her inability to empathize with people and women whom she was connected to. Or maybe it was about the lack of background of Anne’s life to give some understanding as to what shaped her that left me feeling that something was lacking in this portrayal. I didn’t really get hooked into this story, nor was I deeply affected.

It’s not a bad movie and is still worth watching. But to be honest, I found the special section with Sue Perkins to be far more interesting and for that alone it’s worth it to get this DVD.

Just on the level of the historical value of a woman having the chutzpa to do what she did and live her sexuality at that time, it’s good that this movie was done. It brings attention to a whole other world that was going on during the Regency era, which I think is valuable since it comes from her actual diaries written during that time. I guess in order to stay true and portray Anne as she was really, the movie did have to show her negative traits, which I guess is preferable to romanticizing her life. I’d still recommend this movie just because it does bring to life a woman who was quite extraordinary for her times.

Heat level: 3- there is a rating for strong sexuality. However, there was really only one semi nude scene and it was quite short. The rest is mostly kisses.

Grade: For the movie itself C, for the mini documentary by Sue Perkins, A


Katiebabs/ KB said...

After watching Tipping the Velvet, which at times I found a bit over the top graphic, I'm still very interested in watching Anne Lister.

Hopefully it will be available soon for US viewing and on Netflix.

Thanks for the review :)

LVLM said...

Katie- it's very much worth watching. I'm glad I did. I guess more my disappointment was that I was hoping for something more romanticized or appealing to the heart.

It's still fascinating though and I felt it was a true version of who Anne Lister was and how she acted based on her own words.

And as far as graphic goes, if you were talking about sex, then this movie is far less and a bit more chaste than Tipping the Velvet.

I don't mind to lend out the DVD to you or anyone who can view it on your own equipment.

Just let me know and I'll lend it out.

I looked on American Amazon and there isn't even a link for it yet. Most probably it will be at least 6 months, which is the usual unless an American distributor doesn't pick it up.

Cathy in AK said...

I'm not surprised this one was more chasted than Tipping the Velvet : )

It sounds like an interesting enough movie to take a peek, but not to buy. I wonder if it will come to BBC America in the future.

Thanks for the review and going through the technical hoops as well as the 3 week wait.

Cathy in AK said...

"Chasted"???? Gah! Need more coffeee!

LVLM said...

Cathy, what? Chasted is not a word? LOL I now declare it a new word.

I don't regret all the effort to get this film. It's still a good film and many, all, reviews are positive for it including the acting.

I suppose my negative reaction was more to probably who Anne Lister was a as a persona. I didn't find her a likable character and nothing to do about that, she was real and not created as a heroine for romantic purposes.

I think I might watch it again and see if it wasn't just my mood or something.

At any rate, like I said to Katie, I don't mind loaning it out. Who knows when it will come to the states.

Cathy in AK said...

I suppose my negative reaction was more to probably who Anne Lister was a as a persona. I didn't find her a likable character and nothing to do about that, she was real and not created as a heroine for romantic purposes.

Right, she was who she was, and as you suggested, perhaps in part because she felt she had to be. or maybe she was just not nice : )

Here's a thought: if this were a portrayal of a man in Anne Lister's place (ie: trying to be a business person while juggling personal affairs), would you have found him as unlikeable?

Not saying you would, just wondering : )

LVLM said...

Cathy- You bring up an interesting question. And I wrote a long response only to have it disappear. Ugh.

Anyway, no I think I would have had the same reaction to a male acting in the same way.

It was more about the fact that Anne was rather arrogant and calculating in her seductions and I don't feel that's a good quality in men as well. Even though during those times, marrying for status and money and not love was normal.

Anne did go through a tumultuous relationship with Marianna, which went on for years even after Marianna got married. But Marianna couldn't break away from fitting in and while she promised Anne over and over that they would one day be married, Marianna cruelly dissed Anne on many levels. So Anne knew what it was to love passionately.

But when she met Ann Walker, initially, in the movie she took her in to protect her after she became an heiress without a suitor to form a business deal with her. But then when Ann Walker, (in the movie) let Anne know she would be her wife, Anne seduced her and they married in a church exchanging rings.

Unfortunately, the movie only goes up to Anne and Ann marrying, but there's nothing about their life together or whether or not Anne really loved Ann or stuck with her for the financial aspect so she could develop her coal-mines.

But if this would have been a man doing the same thing, I wouldn't feel differently.

And this really isn't a romance. It's the story of a real woman's life and because she was a lesbian and it was during the Regency era, then one does want to put a romantic spin to it.

Cathy in AK said...

Interesting, LVLM.

And I'll be sure not to go into watching the program in a romantic state of mind : )