10 Criminally Underrated Queer Films You Need to See

"Queerama" director Daisy Asquith gives us a schooling in the best of rare and underground LGBT cinema.

“Rosebud: (1991), Dir. Cheryl Farthing. Image: BFI Video

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. To celebrate, the British Film Institute commissioned a series of LGBTQ film projects, including a brilliant archival documentary titled Queerama: A Century of Gay Rights and Desires on Film, directed by filmmaker Daisy Asquith. Queerama is a patchwork of sorts: a series of non-linear clips and extracts chronicling queer representation across the spectrum of British cinema, culling from literally dozens and dozens of titles. “We heard that we got the money from BFI exactly 12 weeks before we had to deliver the film,” says Asquith, cheerful and eloquent over Skpye from her home in Brighton. “We just kind of submerged ourselves in the archives. When we got there, there were loads of surprises — particularly the documentary stuff from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was the only way we could see what the attitudes were really like in those days.”

Newly released on DVD, Queerama is a potent reminder not only of how much times have changed, but also of how important queer representation remains for modern audiences. “I wanted there to be a lot of subtextual queerness in the film because when we’re growing up, that’s how we find ourselves,” explains Asquith. “We use our imaginations, which are unsurpassed, to find ourselves on screen when we’re not intentionally there. We also wanted to represent, as well as we could, the diverse community that calls itself queer, or doesn’t call itself queer, for that matter. [Given the time period], it was tough to make it not too white, and not too binary, in gender terms, so we worked hard at that too.”

But where to begin one’s own journey into the reaches of queer cinema? Every LGBT child remembers those first flutters of excitement when confronted with any kind of queer content, the anticipation of gleaning life’s gay mysteries from those characters of fiction. In search of further schooling in this domain, we asked Asquith to share her top 10 lesser-known films from the Queerama selection. From leathers boys to BBC documentaries to women’s prison dramas, there’s something for everyone to discover, be they queer, straight, or simply curious.

1. Dream A40, 1965

“Dream A40″(1965), Dir. Lloyd Reckord. Image: BFI Video

“I would highly recommend Lloyd Reckord’s Dream A40, which is a film shown early on in Queerama about two guys taking a road trip, until the police come and take them away. It’s really beautiful, and I had never heard of it. It’s in the BFI archive, and is available on their Mediatheque, I believe.”

2. Four documentaries from the 1960s

“Consenting Adults: The Man and Consenting Adults: The Woman” (1967). Image: BFI Video

“There are four documentaries that I’ll bunch together as one selection. The first two are Consenting Adults: The Man and Consenting Adults: The Woman. They’re black-and-white BBC documentaries, made in 1967, about what homosexuality is — so it’s quite scientific. It treats homosexuality as an illness, but I also think you can hear in the tone that there’s a sense of trying to be a little more understanding and liberal; a bit more accepting of it. And the way that they explain it is so funny, because it makes you realise that people had no idea. The other two documentaries are This Week: Homosexuals (1964) and This Week: Lesbians (1965). Those were presented by a philosopher called Brian McGee, and what I love about them is that he asks these hilariously innocent questions like, ‘What do lesbians actually do?’ in this posh BBC voice. I think that carries so much information about how ignorant people were about homosexuality, and at the same time it has this double purpose, because some people still need that question answered. Apparently their sex lives are so boring that they can’t imagine anything but fucking with a dick! So I love those.”

 3. Scrubbers, 1982

“Scrubbers” (1982), Dir. Mai Zetterling. Image: Handmade Films

Scrubbers is great lesbian film, by Mai Zetterling, about girls in jail. It’s just so much fun, and a really great portrayal of women in prison and the difficult relationships they have with each other. It has a sort of sexy fun about it, which is unusual because until Campbell Ex came along, we didn’t really have sexy lesbian films. It was ahead of its time, in that way.”

4. Uncle David, 2010

“Uncle David” (2010), Dir. David Hoyle, Gary Reich, and Mike Nicholls. Image: Peccadillo Pictures

Uncle David is directed by David Hoyle, Gary Reich, and Mike Nicholls and stars the wonderful David Hoyle, otherwise known at the performance artist, The Divine David. It’s a really great, creepy, naughty film about what it is to be secretive and subversive as a gay man.”

5. Stud Life, 2012

“Stud Life” (2012), Dir. Cambell Ex. Image: GM Films

“I recommend everything Campbell X does, as well as their beautiful film Stud Life. They’re one of our best queer filmmakers, and they’re a queer transgender person of colour, so that needs all the publicity it can get. Campbell has just made a new film called Desire which I also highly recommend — unfortunately it’s not in Queerama because it wasn’t ready at the time.”

6. David is Homosexual, 1978

“David is Homosexual” (1978), Dir. Wilf Avery. Image: Lewisham Che

“This one’s a real treasure. It was uncovered by curator, Simon McCallum, who’s done years of work archiving queer film for the BFI and really helped us on Queerama. The film had been hiding in someone’s attic for about 40 years! It’s a Super 8 film about the campaign for equal age of consent. There’s some really good documentary footage of the marches. It was made at a time when no one was paying for any queer representation in film, so a queer amateur film group, led by Wilfred Avery, got together in South London to make it themselves. I was super impressed and inspired by it.”

7. Chumbawumba’s “Homophobia”, 1994

“This video must have come out 25 years ago. Chumbawumba were one of the few bands in the early ’90s that were willing to be political and talk about that stuff. They had eight members of mixed sexualities and gender expressions, and just turned around and said, ‘This is called homophobia, bitches.'”

8. Baby, 2000

Baby, directed by W.I.Z., is a beautiful short film that’s very unknown and really worth a look. It stars Ben Whishaw as a teenager.”

9. Victim, 1961

“Victim” (1961), Dir. Basil Dearden Image: Rank Film Distributors

“I think Dirk Bogarde in Basil Dearden’s Victim is one of the greatest performances that we have in Queerama, so I’ll mention it for that.”

10. The Leather Boys, 1964

“The Leather Boys” (1964), Dir. Raymond Stross Image: British Lion-Columbia

“This film is so good! It’s by Sidney J. Furie and is about two working class boys having a fling. One of them’s married, so it looks at how they deal with the wife and their own refusal to accept their sexuality. It has an interesting emotional layer to it. It’s black and white; both actors are beautiful and wear good clothes… I love that movie.”

“Nighthawks” (1978), Dir. Ron Peck. Image: Cinegate/BFI Video

Honourable mentions

“Special mention for the sex scene in Priest (1994) by Antonia Bird. Even though it’s boys, it still turns me on! I also have to mention Ron Peck’s Nighthawks (1978), because no one knows it and it’s so incredible. It’s about Section 28, and it stars a teacher who is not out, but he’s cruising in all the clubs. It’s not about buff muscly guys, it looks very real.”


You can purchase Queerama here.


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