The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister (UK, 2010)

More than a lesbian?

Broadcast on BBC2, The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister dramatised one of those women ‘hidden from history’. I first came across her in a ‘publicity piece’ in The Observer for the BBC dramatisation. A fascinating woman she sounds however this drama focuses almost wholly on her sexuality. It’s as if the defining characteristic of a homosexual, once he or she finds their life on the screen, is their sexuality; not something that often happens for heterosexual biopics (unless they’re Casanova).

We do get hints of Lister’s business nous but this forms a relatively small part of the drama which is driven by her desire to get married to the woman she loves. As this is the 1820s it certainly is a story but it was far too dominant in the narrative. Didn’t the BBC believe the programme would find an audience without ‘girl on girl’ action? Come on BBC! You are a Public Service Broadcaster and telling this woman’s tale properly would’ve been a public service. The day after the Halifax Courier ran a story of a lesbian marriage on its page 3; it’s good to see such unions being mainstreamed.

It was an immaculate production, with excellent performances, but I’m sure we could have more interesting drama if it had been a six-part tale that focused on her economic and political role as much as her sexuality.

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