An Education In Your Own History

As previously mentioned, in my late teens I became quite fixated on queer history and in particular in the erratic contents of a specific book. There were several films mentioned, with stills included, and for a while I made it my mission to hunt them down and watch them: this was a mission in which I was repeatedly thwarted, and in fact most of the queer cinema I encountered I stumbled across wholly by accident: the best example of this was Martin Sherman’s heartrending and stagey Bent, which I encountered because of insomnia and Channel 4’s insomniac-friendly schedules in the very early days of the 21st Century.

Recently I’ve been catching up on those films whose stills I poured over ten or so years ago, and finally managed to watch both Maurice (1987, Hugh Grant, James Wilby, and Rupert Graves) and Another Country (1984, Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Cary Elwes). Both films are set in the prelude to a World War, although as Maurice belongs in the run-up to the First it is technically more relevant to me as my giant emo obsessiveness about the First World War and associated Sad Gay Soldiers (according to my boyfriend this is a cinematic and literary genre to which I am wedded without exception). Then again, Another Country is a very lightly fictionalised account of the younger days of Guy Burgess (they changed his surname to Bennett, that’s about it) and ever since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came out I’ve had a soft spot for spies. The films even have an attractive Rupert apiece: Graves for Maurice, Everett for Another Country (the latter does boast a second, back-up Rupert in the form of Rupert Wainwright, not to be confused with Rufus Wainwright).

The sex scenes in Maurice are slightly more abundant, and I could very probably talk at disturbing length about Rupert Graves’ penis, which makes an appearance – but I did promise myself this wasn’t going to be that kind of a blog even though it is a jolly nice penis. Instead, though: the comparison of time period, the comparison of idealised England, and the comparison of relationship.

For all that Judd, in Another Country, invokes cynicism and dissatisfaction and talks about the pointlessness of the war that preceded his school days, he is wrapped in the very serious and passionate belief in the ideals of Marx, and of Communism. Meanwhile the protagonists of Maurice are all of them without ideals: they adhere to a sense of propriety, of place in the order of things (and good grief but Clive Durham is a pompous, self-important ass at Cambridge), but without any real ideology to hold onto: they are older, and if not wiser then a good deal less convinced of the importance of clearly-delineated concepts.

Both films involve the notion of sacrifices made for love, which rather neatly explains my interest in them beyond the acknowledged passion for queer history; although in each case the sacrifice is rather central to the denouement of the plot, and therefore should be left for the viewer to discover themselves.

Maurice is the softer of the two. It dwells in a gentler time, before the last remnants of a specific social order were torn apart by years of mechanised war and the wholesale slaughter of a generation: in Another Country Judd mocks this and Bennett disdains it, each unimpressed with the boy soldiers lined up to commemorate the dead that have yet to fall in the narrative of Maurice.

There is almost a sense of continuity between the two, but if there is it’s a sad one: the line, “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature,” from Maurice still holds true some fifteen, twenty years later in Another Country: there is a disinclination in the upper classes of English society, still, to allow schoolboy romance or its adult incarnation, and an angry, humiliated Guy Bennett spells it out: “Because in your heart of hearts, like Barclay and Delahay and Fowler and Menzies, you still believe, in spite of your talk of equality and fraternity, you still believe some people are better than others because of the way they make love.”

After all that I’m rather in need of some happier viewing, so I’d welcome suggestions of gay and lesbian films (preferably historical in genre) with happy endings: and be aware, I’ve already seen But I’m A Cheerleader so many times that I can quote it line-for-line!

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2 thoughts on “An Education In Your Own History

  1. I certainly can’t think of any ‘happily ever after’ gay historical movies. Surely there must be at least one.

    1. You’d think so, and yet all the ones I can think of with happily-ever-after endings are modern-era ones.

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