This year, Hollywood delivered some of its best LGBTI content in history, both on the big and small screens.
When it came to movies, however, the most authentic and warm portrayals of LGBTI characters and themes appeared in period dramas. Several films shucked the ideas that queer people didn’t exist in history, or if they did, that their stories had to be ones of discrimination and tragedy.
Modern-day films like Love, Simon or Lady Gaga’s remarkable turn in A Star Is Born gave us plenty to love, but they were not nearly as rousing or remarkable as the period dramas of the year.
Colette was the first period film to come out in 2018, which changed the expectations of period films and what could queer representation could be.
Two more followed in its wake.
The Favourite, from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, tells the story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), and the two women who vied for her favor. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play the two women, Sarah and Abigail.
Lanthimos is known for his dark — and darkly funny — films, from The Lobster to The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The Favourite strikes the same tones.
For all its absurdity, the movie is precisely accurate, down to the romantic relationship historians have studied between Anne and Sarah. It also depicts how Abigail used Anne’s queerness and her own sexuality to find her way into Anne’s good graces and her bed.
Critics are raving about the film and it has already been nominated for several award shows.
It’s easy to perhaps see this film as a negative representation of queer characters. After all, Stone’s Abigail seduces Anne for political gain.
This is a limited viewing of the film, however.
There are several scenes, particularly between Anne and Sarah, that are genuine. The film never questions their relationship. It explains how their friendship came to be, and lets the sexual and romantic aspects simply exist and flourish. It’s refreshing to watch, especially in a more colorful period film that movie-goers are used to.
The characters in this film are not necessarily good, but not every LGBTI character has to be. In real life, LGBTI people are varied and complex, and they should be in movies and TV shows as well. This is currently a delicate line to walk because there are not as many LGBTI characters as there should be. This makes it more difficult for the breadth of representation we deserve.
Still, The Favourite is a film unlike any other and its authenticity is more than welcome.
Mary Queen of Scots
First-time feature director Josie Rourke helmed this film about the titular Mary Queen of Scots (Saoirse Ronan), but you wouldn’t be able to tell simply from watching it.
This film, detailing the life of Mary, as well as her relationship with Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), is a more typical period drama than The Favourite but no less impressive. It feels grand and epic, as any historical film about queens should feel.
What’s more is that its diversity and representation feels effortless and still significant.
Rourke cast numerous actors of color, including Gemma Chan and Adrian Lester, as figures of historically white people.
She also included historical queer identities for the characters Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden).
Historians agree about Rizzio and Henry’s sexual relationship, as well as the tragic endings that befell them.
What is remarkable about these characters is that their tragedies have nothing to do with their queerness. In the film, both characters come to ends as history says they did, and the scenes are brutal to watch, but it is not a punishment for existing outside of heteronormativity, as so many films depict.
Rizzio served Mary, and she not only embraces but encourages his genderfluidity in the film.
When he does something to anger her (sleeping with her husband, Henry), she explicitly tells him it is not because of his identity or being true to himself, but for letting Henry take advantage of him. She forgives him and welcomes him back into her good graces with open arms.
As a film, Mary Queen of Scots is nothing audiences have never seen before. As a film which sees history beyond the typical white and heterosexual lens, it is revolutionary.