After the success of it last year, Terence of A Shroud of Thoughts is again hosting his British Invaders Blogathon. The objective is simply, really: just write about any British-produced film as long as it was made before 1990. Feeling ambitious (and, quite frankly, bored out of my skull), I decided to talk about a few films with a common theme. (The theme's pretty obvious if you know the films.) The films in questions are:
|(1961, dir. Basil Dearden)|
|(1971, dir. John Schlesinger)|
|(1986, dir. Stephen Frears)|
|(1987, dir. James Ivory)|
(The list starts after the jump.)
Knowing the era Victim was filmed in, it's amazing that it even got made in the first place. It was made during a time where homosexuality was not only frowned upon but also a criminal act. It was also fodder for blackmail, which is the main focus of the film. It was filmed as a thriller and a police procedural but all these years later, what stands out is how much society has changed since the film's 1961 release.
It was also a daring film for star Dirk Bogarde to do. Playing a closeted homosexual would've been career suicide for him, much like how it would've been for River Phoenix and Heath Ledger when they took on My Own Private Idaho and Brokeback Mountain respectively decades later. Roger Ebert eloquently summed up Bogarde's decision to take on Victim in his "Great Movies" piece on the film:
Bogarde himself was homosexual, but never made that public; even in his touching memoirs about the life and death of his partner Tony Forwood, he cast their relationship as actor and manager, not lovers. For that he has been criticized by some gay writers and activists, but consider: By accepting what looked like career suicide to star in Victim, wasn't he making much the same decision as his character Melville Farr -- to do the right thing, and accept the consequences? Didn't he, in effect, come out as an actor in that and many other roles (notably as the aging homosexual in Death in Venice)? Was it anybody's business what he was, or did, in his private life? It is the argument of Victim that it was not.
SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY
In a stark contrast to Victim's looming sense of shame ten years prior, Sunday, Bloody Sunday is more open about its depiction of sexuality. (Being made after homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain certainly helped; likewise with it being made by a gay director.) This being Schlesinger's most personal film, this is one of the few films of this subject matter that hasn't been dated because of its attitudes.
After more than forty years, Sunday, Bloody Sunday is decidedly more progressive than recent films of a similar nature. It highlights bisexuality and polyamory, two things that the media is more than happy to claim don't exist. Speaking as someone who's sex-positive, it borders on the line of ridiculous that our society is still unwilling to accept the existence of certain sexual preferences and romantic beliefs.
MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE
Fast forward another fifteen years, and once again society's opinions have changed. With My Beautiful Laundrette, it focuses on more than just the relationship between two men of different working classes. This being made during Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister, it also highlights a menagerie of topics: racism, multiculturalism, and class and sexual politics. (And all in a little of over ninety minutes!)
In comparison to the other entries on this short list, My Beautiful Laundrette doesn't strictly focus on the two men. It also focuses on the familial and romantic bonds between the other characters. And as is the case with real life itself, they're deeply complicated. (Then again, when aren't they?)
Having E.M. Forster's novel, which was written during the Edwardian era (but published after Forster's death), be adapted into a film during the 1980s allowed Ivory to show what Forster could only hint at with his words. Ivory was able to depict the forbidden romance of Forster's time, "the Oscar Wilde sort" as Forster put it.
Maurice also has what's so very rare in fiction of this nature: a happy finale. We've seen so many novels and films focusing on this subject, and more often than not they'll end on a somber note (read: someone dying a horrible and pointless death strictly for the sake of angst and drama). Isn't it nice to finally have something a touch more uplifting?