The London Mediatheque loves lesbians


If you live anywhere near London (or if you travel to London often), allow me to strongly recommend to

you the British

Film Institute

new Mediatheque. Well — new is a relative term.

The service was first launched in March of 2007.

But I hadn’t heard of it until recently, so there’s a possibility

that you may not have, either. Anyway, the point is that it’s


Basically, the Mediatheque

is a room with about 20 viewing stations in it. You stroll in, you register for a two-hour viewing

session at the reception desk, and then you sit down and watch something from their archives of films, TV dramas, and documentaries — many of them lesbian-themed — at

your own individual screen. It’s possible to book in advance, but

based on my own experience this past weekend, your chances are quite good

of getting a screen even if you just turn up on the day. You don’t

have to be a member; you don’t have to be anything. It’s just there,

and it’s free of charge. Nice, huh?

Take a look at the complete list of

of archived films
available to view. They’re not all lesbian-themed, of course

(and I’ll admit I don’t quite understand the process by which they’ve

been selected). But if you scan down the list, it won’t take you long

to find a range of British lesbian favourites. There are classic dramas,

like Oranges Are Not

the Only Fruit
, A Village Affair and Fingersmith.

And there are short

films — including the fantastically titled Came Out, It Rained,

Went Back in Again
, which I watched this weekend. Made in 1991,

it features Absolutely Fabulous actress Jane Horrocks

as a young “learner lesbian” who travels down to London for the

first time and goes through a range of dilemmas that will be utterly

familiar to anyone who’s gone through the coming-out process.

Refreshingly, it manages to

be a breezy comedy without minimizing any of the genuine difficulties

that do accompany coming out.

There are some dramas that

I’ll admit I’ve never heard of — like 1987’s Inappropriate

. Scripted by Andrew Davies (who would go on to adapt Tipping the Velvet

for the BBC), it stars Oranges actress Charlotte Coleman

as a schoolgirl who becomes an object of desire for her female psychiatrist.

There are documentaries, like

the 1965 program This Week: Lesbians (sure to be full of enlightenment

and sensitivity — er, NOT), and debate shows like 1983’s One

in Five
, featuring gay men and women from the period talking about

their experiences.

There’s Daphne Du Maurier

— The Loving Spirit
, a 1993 documentary that delves into the

private life of the bisexual author of Rebecca. I found this particularly

fascinating to watch, since the 2007 BBC drama Daphne was based

on this biographical material.

There’s a chance to see

A Bit of Scarlet
— a history of gay and lesbian British cinema

that I had never even heard of before this weekend. Directed by a woman,

Andrea Weiss, and narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, it’s the U.K. equivalent

of the groundbreaking 1995 American documentary The Celluloid Closet. While it has its frustrating

aspects — the fact that the titles of the films under discussion aren’t

shown until the credits, for example, as well as an over-reliance on

purely homosocial footage of women dancing together — there are also

some fascinating moments, as well as many clips from older British films

that I had never seen or heard of before. You can watch a woman in a

tux singing about her “Sweet Adeline” in an old black-and-white

film, or watch Vanessa Redgrave kiss Dorothy Tutin in

the 1993 Jeanette Winterson–scripted drama Shades of Fear

(also known as Great Moments in Aviation).

For those who are interested

in the history of gay male as well as lesbian cinema, there are the

landmark dramas Victim (1961) and Sunday Bloody Sunday

(1971), as well as the more recent groundbreaking TV shows Queer

as Folk
(the original U.K. version) and The Line of Beauty.

And for those simply interested in women in the arts, there are multiple

documentaries on the Brontës.

Essentially, it’s a fantastic

resource that I can’t wait to travel to London and use again. Visit the Mediatheque website for hours and more details.

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