time warp

Still thirsty after ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’? This gay period romance is the perfect second round

Image Credit: ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ Buena Vista Home Entertainment

This past week, the steamy literary adaptation Lady Chatterly’s Lover has been heating up the streaming charts on Netflix. And, although the film features queer nonbinary star Emma Corrin, as well as plenty of eye-catching nudity from co-star Jack O’Connell, we found ourselves longing for something more overtly gay, so to speak.

There are any number of historical romances that have been dubbed “bodice-rippers” because of the way they explore sexual repression in a time of strict moral tradition. Many of these stories focus on a heroine who casts aside “polite” society’s rules, pursuing her pleasure—and her own agency—in the process. Hence, ripping off the constrictive bodices that’ve been holding them back, and getting their freak on with whoever they want. Feminism!

Related: Netflix brings an infamously erotic novel to the big screen—and doesn’t skimp on the male nudity

Queer audiences have long found themselves in such stories, all too familiar with sexual repression and a heteronormative culture that wants them to play by their rules. But only a small percentage of these period pieces actually focus on LGBTQ+ characters and themes, which is why we wanted to highlight one with a particularly resonant gay storyline…

Partially set in England in the 1920s—around the same time Lady Chatterly’s Lover was first published—Brideshead Revisited is a 20th century classic, written by novelist Evelyn Waugh in 1945.

Its story follows the life of artist Charles Ryder and his many entanglements with the Flytes, a wealthy English Catholic family who live on a giant estate known as Brideshead (hence the book’s name). Over the years, Ryder has an on-again-off-again courtship with daughter Julia Flyte, but, in fact, it’s her brother Sebastian—eccentric and a bit of a drunk—who first introduces our protagonist to the family.

Now, in the novel, the nature of Charles and Sebastian’s relationship has been a subject of great debate, Waugh’s writing keeping things just vague enough to leave you wondering, “Wait, were they together?” They certainly have an intimate connection, and, at one point, Charles even admits he was in love with his friend. Still, some scholars maintain their bond was strictly platonic, and that there was nothing gay going on.

But things are much less vague on film, especially in the well-regarded 2008 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited from filmmaker Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots). In fact, there was a big to-do over the movie’s very intentional emphasis on the homosexual attraction between Charles and Sebastian, even if it did ultimately opt to paint this as a one-sided love affair.

“I think it will probably upset the purists,” said the film’s co-screenwriter, Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’s Diary), at the time. “But one thing we wanted to make clear was that Sebastian was gay and that Charles—although terribly fond of him—is heading in another direction sexually. Waugh had a very skillful way of skating over the sordid details so we can imagine what we like about them. This ambivalence was probably the result of his own sexual ambivalence.”

Notably, Sebastian is portrayed in the film by English actor Ben Whishaw, who—despite preferring to remain ambiguous about his sexuality for some time—entered into a civil partnership with Australian composer Mark Bradshaw in 2012, and has spoken openly about his coming out since. The role of Charles is played by straight actor Matthew Goode, who has nevertheless “gone gay” in other films, like in Tom Ford’s heartbreaking A Single Man. (The film also stars Hayley Atwell, Felicity Jones, and icon Emma Thompson, by the way!)

With Whishaw and Goode’s natural performances, the chemistry between these old friends is palpable. And the more overt depiction of Sebastian as queer—albeit still deeply closeted—adds a great deal of texture to this classic story: It explains why he’s always been the black sheep of his traditional Catholic family, it might be part of the reason that he was so driven toward heavy drinking, and it certainly underlines why he was so jealous of his sister’s romance with Charles.

Plainly put, Sebastian was repressed, but the conservative mores of the era meant he never got his proper bodice-ripping moment, and ultimately make him a rather tragic gay figure.

Related: The 13 Most Heartbreaking, Romantic Gay Movie Kisses Ever

That all contributes to (what we at Queerty have previously called) one of the most romantic, heartbreaking gay movie kisses ever. An invention for the ’08 film not specifically detailed in Waugh’s original writing, the scene comes at the end of a lovely montage, where Charles and Ryder enjoy each other’s company on the grounds at Brideshead. It’s dusk, and the two are tasting wines, when Sebastian steals a quiet moment to lean in for a kiss. It’s intimate, it’s beautiful, and it’s all the more sad because these two English gents never allow themselves to see it through.

 

Brideshead Revisited has a lot more on its mind than this thwarted gay romance, but it’s a large part of why the film is worth revisiting nearly 15 years after its release. Not to mention, it was a great breakthrough role for Whishaw, who has gone on to become one of the most exciting queer actors working today.

And this is as good a time as any to let you know that, yes, both Whishaw and Goode bare their butts in a couple memorable moments! If that’s not inspiration to check out this excellent film, then we don’t know what is.

Image Credit: ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ Buena Vista Home Entertainment

And if that‘s not gay enough for you, then we’ll have to wait with bated breath for the next adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. HBO announced plans for a limited series a while back that would star the internet’s boyfriend Andrew Garfield as Charles and Taylor Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn as Sebastian, as well as Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Ralph Fiennes. Unfortunately production was postponed indefinitely back in 2021, but we’re still holding out hope!

Julian Jarrold’s Brideshead Revisited is currently streaming for free on Hoopla, and is available for digital rental/purchase via AppleTV+, Amazon, GooglePlay, YouTube, and Vudu.

Related: Before Stonewall: 9 must-see queer period pieces set in the mid-20th century