LGBTQ + cinema has come a long way since the birth of New Queer Cinema in the early 90s. Prior to that, LGBTQ + characters and movies were largely either invisible, coded as villains, or restricted to niche, underground status. We first saw a move towards the mainstream with 2000s LGBTQ + moviesparticularly with the wide release of Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee’s film about two shepherds who find love helped change the mainstream, paving the way for major actors, filmmakers, and studios to see value in telling LGBTQ + stories. Now, according to GLAAD, LGBTQ + representation on TV has reached a record-high. What’s more, Billy Eichner’s Brittle is set to be the first gay rom-com produced by a major studio.
An important part of the public’s education about LGBTQ + issues is that LGBTQ + people have always been present. Therefore, it’s especially important to have representation in period films. Although most period films, TV series, and stories still largely ignore LGBTQ + characters, there are some that have contributed to change. Indded, here are the best period movies with LGBTQ + characters.
10 A Love to Hide
A Love to Hide is a French romance film that takes place during the events of World War II. The story centers around a young Jewish girl who tries to escape from the Third Reich after her parents and sister are killed when trying to escape to England. She finds shelter in her childhood friend Jean and his lover, Phillipe. It’s a heart-warming story depicting queer love in a time when it was strongly discouraged.
9 Call Me By Your Name
Call Me By Your Name is one of the most successful and recognizable LGBTQ + films that has been released in recent memory and was applauded critically, being nominated for Golden Globes, BAFTAS and Academy Awards. It became a global sensation and launched the career of Timothée Chalamet who plays Elio, a teenager living in Italy. Armie Hammer plays Oliver, an older student who stays with Elio’s family while working as the teen’s father’s temporary assistant. Their relationship starts off as complicated and frosty, but quickly ascends into a passionate love affair that leaves Elio confused and sad as he has to come to terms with his loss after Oliver leaves.
Howl was released in 2010 and explores the life of the historical beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who faced an obscenity trial in 1957 for the contents of his poem Howl. James Franco stars as Ginsberg, and Aaron Tveit is his lover and life partner, Peter Orlovsky. They both deliver strong performances, and it’s a piece of history that is well worth revisiting.
7 Another Country
Another Country was released in 1984 and is a period drama based on the life of an openly gay spy from the 1930s named Guy Burgess. The film stars Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, and out actor Rupert Everett, and is a compelling story that is well worth viewing.
Milk was released in 2008 and is a biopic based on the life of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to run for office in California in the 1970s. The film details his life, romances, and eventual assassination. Sean Penn took the leading role and won an Oscar for his efforts. The film is heart-breaking, depicting the real scenes of homophobia, which were all too real during this time period. Harvey had to fight to break down the barriers the community faced. The film could have been made better if an LGBTQ + character was played by an actual member of the community, but it’s still an important film depicting a revolutionary period in history.
5 Portrait of a Lady on Fire
2019 saw the release of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which takes its name from a famous painting. The film is directed by Céline Sciamma who previously directed Girlhood. The plot centers around Marianne, an art instructor in 18th century France, who keeps the infamous painting in a studio where she teaches young women. When asked about the painting’s significance, the film flashes back years prior to a time when Marianne found the inspiration to make the painting and fell in love. The film is beautiful, both visually and in its content. It’s beautifully silent yet bold in its direction, so it’s no surprise that the film became a huge success.
4 Gods and Monsters
Gods and Monsters was released in 1998 and recounts the last days of James Whale, an actor made famous for his involvement in Frankenstein. He is played by Ian McKellen, and he captures the feeling of the difficulties faced by members of the LGBTQ + community during this time period with an understanding beauty.
Ammonite was directed by Francis Lee and tells the story of forbidden love in 1840s Lyme Regis. The film features performances from Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet. Winlset takes the lead with Mary Anning, a pioneering 19th-century paleontologist with ideas and extraordinary fossil finds in Lyme Regis. Her character is cold as she is competing in a field dominated by men. The love story softens her character, but ultimately leaves her feeling more confused and abandoned in the end. It’s a beautifully told story which everyone should watch.
Mauritius tells a story based on the EM Foster novel of the same name, depicting gay love in early 20th Century England, following Maurice Hall from his life in school until he is united with his life partner. James Wilby stars as Maurice Hall, with Hugh Grant as Clive Durham and Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder.
1 The Favorite
The Favorite was a huge success upon its release, telling the story of Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) are rivals who aggressively vie for the love and favor of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in 18th-century England. In this darkly hilarious film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, Colman stars as Queen Anne, who is riddled with gout and struggles without suicidal thoughts. She requires constant attention from Lady Sarah in an awkward display of dependency. The film is totally unique in its subject matter, and everyone should experience it.
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