Like a lot of things at Picturehouse, this season came out of a debate in the Programming office. Discussing the recent royal pardon granted to Alan Turing, the real-life subject of Oscar-winner The Imitation Game (2014), we argued about what exactly a pardon means and how it affects our perception of Britain’s past.
Turing was chemically castrated by the authorities in order to ‘cure’ his homosexuality. As with so many gay and bisexual men of his generation, the exposure of Turing’s sexuality cloaked him in scandal and public shame. It blighted his tremendous contribution to history for many decades, and it’s only now after the movie and the pardon that his enormous legacy is understood in the popular imagination.
The real value of a very public retraction of a decades-old wrong proved the subject of a long and interesting discussion. Looking back on one of the uglier chapters of British history, we decided our contribution to the anniversary should be a series of films that explore our collective past.
Our season presents a mix of British movies that explicitly address the legal history of same-sex relationships in the UK, and others that simply reflect the condition of sexual-minority life in this country in a specific place, at a specific time. A potent journey though Queer British cinema, Criminal Acts is not exhaustive, but aims to open up discussion through a handful of landmark movies.
We begin with the brand new restoration of The Naked Civil Servant (1975), featuring John Hurt’s career-defining turn as Quentin Crisp. Basil Dearden’s exceptional thriller Victim (1961) stars Dirk Bogarde as a gay lawyer fighting back against the blackmailers who dare to target him.
Art biopics Prick Up Your Ears (1987) and Love Is The Devil (1998) bring a wry perspective on the realities of gay life for Joe Orton and Francis Bacon in 1960s London.
Underground classic Nighthawks (1978) is a vivid account of the London gay scene soon after decriminalisation. Stephen Frears’ iconic My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) features Daniel Day Lewis as a right-wing extremist who falls for a Pakistani man in Thatcher’s Britain.
Despite a long history of persecution, lesbianism was never explicitly illegal in the UK. But social stigmas have endured, as seen in Pawel Pawlikowski’s BAFTA-winning My Summer Of Love (2004), a potent depiction of girlhood and emerging lesbian sexuality. Finally, Andrew Haigh’s modern classic Weekend (2011) sees two young men find a one-night stand turning into something more serious.
Much has changed in fifty years, so join us as we reflect on a hugely significant period in the continuing fight for equal love.