Peake, a Yorkshire native like Anne, first heard of the role from a friend and was captivated by Anne’s inspirational story. She told us, “I thought Anne just sounded like my kind of part so I chased it until I got it. I hadn’t even read the script but I just knew that I had to do it!”
The film is part biopic, part romance, part coming of age drama and is driven by Anne’s thick Yorkshire voice-over weaving a bold perspective on her romances, politics and a host of brilliant, gaudy supporting characters.
These include Anne’s aunt, who quizzically asks a chivalrous and handsome looking Anne as she conducts target practice, “Why must you pursue in such manly pursuits, a pistol is not becoming for a lady.” Plus the wonderful Tibbs, whose unrequited love for Anne drives her to drink and is played with brilliant comedic effect by Susan Lynch.
The film deals mainly with Lister’s passionate love affair with the beautiful Mariana, played with beautiful subtlety by Affinity’s Anna Madely. She loves Anne back and calls her "my Freddy" but cannot shed off the social constraints of the aristocratic day and refuses to live with Anne "as husband and wife," instead marrying an older, rich male landowner.
To think that a woman in the 19th century would be brave enough to even contemplate living with her female lover like a married couple is pretty remarkable. If Lister was to take a look at society today she would no doubt be appalled to discover that women still cannot live legally as a married couple across most of the world.
Her passion for learning and determination to be self-sufficient is again admirable. When Mariana breaks her heart, instead of languishing in self-pity, she throws herself into education, learning estate management and thwarting her male nemesis by selling coal and stone from her land.
She is also an enviable seductress. We witness her embarking on the church pews with her trusty telescope, scoping out the prettiest girl in the room and quoting Byron at her until the girl can’t sleep at night: “You must stop thinking of me in bed,” she tells her.
How lovely would it be if girls still quoted Byron to each other by way of seduction instead of just plying the object of your desire with booze? A little insight for you into our first meeting……
Our only criticism of the film is that there wasn’t a more passionate build up to Anne’s relationship with shy heiress Ann Walker. However, this would have been to inject fabrication into a story bound in truth.
We would also have liked to see more of Anne’s life before Mariana, but with a four million page journal to contend with, it is understandable that this film is basically a snapshot of a particular point in Anne’s herstory. Jane English told us later that she had enough material to write several more films about Anne Lister’s life — and we said yes please.
Before the screening, director James Kent said that he feels incredibly proud that Anne Lister’s story is being told on the BBC:
This is a film for men and women across the country that are completely committed to their sexuality and live lives full of romance and sex and passion. It is also for people who still struggle with their sexuality. For them, this will be more meaningful than any other drama this year. For me, as a gay director, it is a privilege to have had the opportunity to make this film with such a wonderful cast and a great writer.
Anne Lister certainly left a lovely lesbian-shaped mark on our hearts that we can’t wait to have imprinted again when The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister airs on BBC2 in late spring. We will confirm the date as soon as we are allowed to!
If you cannot wait until then to watch, we recommend that you read Helena Whitbread’s book, I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840.
For more information on the BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival visit: www.bfi.org.uk/llgff.
"Great LezBritain" authors Sarah, a Londoner, and Lee, a Glaswegian, met in a gay discotheque one bleak mid winter, eight years ago and have been shacked up together ever since. When not watching Tipping The Velvet, they find time to write, run a PR company, DJ at their own club nights and love a bit of jam on toast. Follow them on Twitter at greatlezbritain.