Beauty & the Beast

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Masterpiece: Beauty & the Beast

No, not the Disney animated classic. Not the live-action remake. And no, not the Linda Hamilton-Ron Perlman soap opera that aired on CBS back in the late 80s (written by Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin, no less). We’re talking about the original, groundbreaking masterpiece by one of the great, queer directors of all time: Jean Cocteau.

Cocteau had survived World War II and felt tremendous pressure to make a film that would uplift French spirits in the aftermath of it all. As such, and because he didn’t consider himself a director so much as a visual artist, he enlisted the help of his friend René Clément, himself one of the all-time great directors, to consult on the movie. He also called in world-famous painter Christian Bérard to head the production design. A young designer named Pierre Cardin supervised the costumes. The collaboration between shows in every single frame of the film: it is both a superb work of drama, and a magnificent work of visual art.

By now you know the story: the young, headstrong Belle (Josette Day), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, rebuffs the handsome suitor Avenant (Jean Marais), preferring a life of independence. When her father (Marcel André) loses his fortune, he wanders into an enchanted forest, finding himself at the castle of The Beast (Jean Marais, again). The Beast threatens to kill Belle’s father for trespassing and stealing a rose, but her father instead offers his daughter in exchange. The dutiful Belle ventures to the castle of the Beast, who immediately falls in love with her.

And so on.

Beauty & the Beast throbs with a queer sensibility from start to finish. Besides treating Belle as an intelligent, independent character–a rarity in 1946–Cocteau casts his real-life boyfriend in the dual role of the Beast and Avenant. Marais leans into the “unnatural” love between the Beast and Belle; his character doesn’t exude abrasiveness (as in the Disney version) so much as raw sexuality. Day understands this too, faking an orgasm the first time Belle sees the Beast. The pair have sensual, desperate chemistry together: the pair aren’t just in love. They really want to f*ck.

Beauty & the Beast doesn’t shy from childhood innocence or Freudian, psychosexual symbolism and subtext. That’s appropriate: old school fairy tales, such as those of the Brother’s Grimm, often had a buried, psychological sexuality to them. We chalk that–along with the film’s visual splendor–up to the collaboration of some of the greatest LGBTQ artists of the 20th century. Cocteau and company knew exactly what film they were making: one which revels in fashion, glamour and magic, and which follows characters burning with kinky sexual desire.

Movies don’t get much better than Beauty & the Beast, or much more sexual. Legend holds that both Marlene Deitrich and Greta Garbo were devastated when the Beast transformed back to a handsome prince. We understand why: the “unnatural” love was way sexier.

Streams on HBO Max and Amazon.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated