What is it about the dwindling days of Autumn that endears me so to the programming of the BBC? Maybe it is their sumptuous, delicate handling of Britain’s wet landscape which so romantically reflects what I see from my office window day after day. Or maybe it is the elegance, the refinement of the dialogue. Maybe it’s the costumes and the set design, the luxurious furniture and character design. Whatever the case may be, the depiction of randy lesbian sex doesn’t seem to hurt my attention span … and I wager, it certainly won’t hurt yours.
From the adaptation of Sarah Water’s Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and Affinity to their frank and unflinching portrayals of lesbians in t.v. serials like Bad Girls and Lip Service, the BBC has proven time and again they mean to let the public in on our secret. Lesbians, even their drama, make for great watching.
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is based on the diaries of a wealthy, unmarried woman who eventually inherited a (modest) estate from her uncle. The diaries contained more than 4,000,000 words (that’s right, I said MILLION). The entries that detailed her intimate relations with members of the same sex were coded – and remained a secret for more than 150 years. They were finally decoded by one of Anne’s descendants, the last inhabitant of Shibden Hall where Anne had made her home and hidden her diaries in a panel in the wall. Talk about awkward.
The BBC handling of the material is fearless and, by the own admission of the film’s writer, Jane English, “to tell [Anne’s] story fully would take a 10-part returning drama series. With 90 minutes, our drama could only ever be an impression of Anne’s life.” As such, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister moves along at a clip, giving us flashes into some of the more important moments in Anne’s life. We see the strands that form the backbone of Anne’s life – her tumultuous relationship with Marianna Belcombe (played by Anna Madeley), her close friendship with Isabella “Tib” Norfliffe (Susan Lynch), and her eventual “marriage” to wealthy widow Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley). Oh, and yes, there’s plenty of lesbian sex along the way.
While the film does not shy away from the explicit nature of Anne’s diaries, it also hopes that if you came for the sex, you might stay for the history lesson. Property rights and ownership during the 19th century were unforgiving, at best, especially with regard to women. That Anne Lister was allowed to take custody of Shibden Hall was due entirely to the fondness felt for her by her uncle. Without this entailment, Anne would not have had the freedoms and luxuries she enjoyed until her untimely death at the age of 49.
The story is important, especially so to the LGBT community. The dialogue, where possible, has been taken from Anne’s diaries , lending truth and richness to the adaptation. As Anne Lister, actress Maxine Peake is brave and ultimately believable, hungry and lonely. You’ll find yourself hoping she will, at last, find someone with whom to share her life.
The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is now available for rental and purchase online.
Official BBC site: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
Wiki page: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
Purchase online: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
From page to screen, the BBC blog: Adapting Anne Lister
Buy Anne Lister’s Diary: Amazon
Anne Lister: on TUMBLR
: Anne Lister on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Lister
: Jane English, From Page to Screen: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2010/05/anne-listers-diaries-from-page.shtml