Directed by Matthew Hill
2010, UK, 60 mins.
If Anne Lister finally becomes a lesbian icon, as she surely deserves to be, then two films will be responsible: last year’s The Secret Diary of Miss Anne Lister, and this companion documentary. Lister’s diary has served that purpose in academic circles, but at four million words, it is terribly unapproachable for many people. Thankfully, we have this film to guide us through the world of one of the Regency period’s most prolific diarists, who wrote in secret code about her various romantic affairs with women in astonishing detail.
Sue Perkins, British television personality and comedian, serves as our chaperon into the world of Anne Lister, as well as our fellow student. The film follows Perkins as she sets out to make sense of Lister’s life by interviewing historians, traveling to important places from Lister’s life, and reading key passages of the famed diary. Of course, each revelation from Lister’s diary dismantles our idea of a stilted and repressed nineteenth century.
Thankfully, this biography takes a warts-and-all approach. Perkins and director Matthew Hill aren’t out to canonize Lister, and they do not shy away from the uglier aspects of her life. That said, they have genuine affection for their subject.
– Dave Robson