February is LGBT History Month in the UK. Created in 2004, the month is dedicated to the understanding of the past and celebrating the present and future of LGBTQ+ lives. This year, 2023, has the theme of Behind the Lens, and is especially appreciative of the contribution of LGBTQ+ people to cinema, especially those who aren’t on screen, like the writers, directors, make-up artists, lighting directors etc.
Which is great, because I was going to write this list of film recommendations before I knew about that. So now it fits even better!
The following ten films are about LGBTQ+ people throughout history, many of them with LGBTQ+ people behind the camera, too. Any with the 💕 symbol beside the title are films that I have actually watched and actually enjoyed; because there’s no point recommending only movies that I haven’t seen, just because Google tells me they’re good.
Colette (2018) 💕
The biographical drama of the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Kiera Knightley), a feminist and bisexual icon, who wrote under her husband’s penname. Her stories, vastly popular with young women, catapulted them both to a world of literary Parisian royalty. During the film, Colette discovers her attraction to women and questions her gender identity, causing a cabaret-pantomime scandal in the process.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Depicting the story of Alan Turing, the British mathematician and cryptanalyst who was crucial in the war against Nazi Germany by breaking cyphers. The film briefly touches on his sexuality throughout, but at the end shows the worst moments of his life: his conviction of gross indecency, like many other homosexual men of the time; his chemical castration to avoid jailtime; and his eventual suicide.
A biographical film about the openly gay politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who was elected to public office in California during 1977 but assassinated in 1978. The movie won Best Original Screenplay at the 2008 Academy Awards; it was written by Dustin Lance Black, now-husband to Olympic diver, Tom Daley.
Rocketman (2019) 💕
The Elton John biopic musical staring Taron Egerton. Openly gay since 1988, the movie depicts John’s sexuality troubles and drug addiction. Unlike other biopics of its time – cough Bohemian Rhapsody cough – Rocketman actively embraced John’s homosexuality and search for love. It was also the first film by a major studio to include a gay male sex scene.
Pride (2014) 💕
Based on the true story, the movie depicts the origins of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign of the 80s. A historical comedy-drama following a group of young lesbian and gay activists who donate to a mining town in Wales, and end up forging strong bonds with the people there. The film also features the famous Gay’s the Word bookshop in central London: the oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop in the UK.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) 💕
I didn’t see this one on any of the lists I sourced for this post, and that’s a shame, because it’s one of my favourites. A biographical drama about the creator of Wonder Woman, William Marston, and his relationship with his wife, Elizabeth, and their polyamorous life partner, Olive Byrne. Elizabeth and Olive would go on to be inspirations for Wonder Woman herself.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) 💕
I made fun of it only a few recommendations ago, but Bohemian Rhapsody is the musical biopic of Freddie Mercury, flaming bisexual and frontman of iconic rock band, Queen. The film does depict Mercury’s bisexuality throughout, however has also received criticism as many major historical events are shown inaccurately or placed in the wrong chronological order. (“We’re making a movie here, not a documentary.”)
The Danish Girl (2015)
Based on a fictionalised account of the real people, The Danish Girl is a story of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. The two were a married couple, and Lili discovers her identity as a transwoman, later becoming one of the first to undergo gender-affirming surgery. It is worth noting there is controversy surrounding the film as the role of Lili, a transgender woman, was cast as a cisgendered man.
The Runaways (2010) 💕
The Runaways is the Kristen Stewart-led biographical drama about the first all-girl rock band, The Runaways, and their lead singers, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. The real-life band was mostly LGBTQ+, however the relationships between the girls on screen are brief and implied more than explicitly touted throughout.
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
Although pitched as a movie about Emma Stone and Steve Carell playing tennis, Battle of the Sexes is loosely based on the true story of Billie Jean King fighting to make women’s tennis a better paid and respected sport, eventually playing champion male tennis player, Bobby Riggs, all while having an affair with her female secretary. In real life, Billie Jean King was the first prominent female professional athlete to come out.
This February, why not try learning about some famous LGBTQ+ figures of the past? Go out of your way a little and find some stories told by LGBTQ+ creators! If you need somewhere to start, try revisiting The Matrix – the directors, the Wachowskis, have since both come out as transwomen, Lilly Wachowski even saying that you should rewatch their works “through the lens of our transness”; that the themes of identity and transformation are apparent, even in The Matrix.
Films that you didn’t even know could be influenced by LGBTQ+ experience have been when the creators are putting their lived experiences into their work.
Why not challenge yourself to find stories that fit this month’s LGBT History Month theme: Behind the Lens?
By Bethany Climpson, Sustainability Engagement Assistant