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.