The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
June 7, 2010
Historical/ Lesbian/ Biographical
DVD- BBC UK
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