Earlier this month, Amazon’s new take on A League Of Their Own was lauded for its inclusion of LGBTQ characters and themes. Though some have balked at the insinuation that the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s featured queer players, it is, in fact, historically accurate.
As series co-creator/star Abbi Jacobson has remarked, “Queer people didn’t just show up at Stonewall—we’ve been around forever.”
Of course, we’ve long known that to be true, but that had us thinking about other period pieces that have put queer characters front and center, particularly those set around the same time as A League Of Their Own, before the start of the Gay Liberation Movement. As it turns out, there are quite a few!
In fact, one of our most anticipated films of the fall, My Policeman, will examine the life of a gay man (played by Harry Styles) in 1950s England. But until then, there are plenty of excellent LGBTQ-focused movies set around the mid-20th Century that are worth checking out, so we’ve assembled an overview of the most notable examples.
To qualify for the list, these films had to be set somewhere between the 1930s and 1965—effectively the “mid-century”—and feature a known queer character in one of the lead roles. While these stories may run the gamut from thrilling to heartbreaking, they all bear that distinctive mid-century aesthetic, so you’ll want to watch with pen and paper in hand to take some chic retro-style notes.
An English public school in the 1930s is rocked by a scandal, making the only openly gay student, Guy Bennett, the subject of bullying at the hands of his peers. As he comes to terms with his sexuality, Bennett becomes disillusioned with his school and country, finding himself an ally in known Marxist, Tommy Judd. Gay actor Rupert Everett stars alongside Cary Elwes and Colin Firth (his film debut) in this drama based on acclaimed play about the early days of real-life Soviet spy, Guy Burgess.
Streams on Fandor, PlutoTV, Tubi, and The Roku Channel.
Within a one year span, there were two films released about Truman Capote and his long struggle to write the acclaimed non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. The better of the two (apologies to Infamous) was the first, Bennett Miller’s Capote, which featured an Academy Award-winning performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. The film details the novelist’s research into the grisly murders of the Clutter family in 1959, and his peculiar relationship with one of the primary suspects.
Streams on HBO Max. Available for rental on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
A stirring lesbian romance set in the early ’50s, Carol is a slow-burn that will still leave you breathless. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are enchanting as women at very different points in their lives who nevertheless strike up an intense connection, which lights a fire in them even while it puts their livelihoods at risk. The critically adored feature was directed by Todd Haynes, adapted from the novel The Price Of Salt by Patricia Highsmith—two names that will show up again on this very list.
Streams on Vudu, Tubi, and The Roku Channel. Available for rental on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
Christopher And His Kind
This made-for-TV film follows author Christopher Isherwood during his time in Germany on the eve of World War II, exploring Berlin’s bustling queer arts culture just as Nazism begins to take hold of the country. It’s an experience that would forever change him and eventually inform Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novel, Goodbye To Berlin, a.k.a. the inspiration for Cabaret. Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith stars alongside Dougles Booth, Imogen Poots, and Toby Jones.
Streams on BritBox.
Another sweeping biopic, De-Lovely is Oscar-winning producer Irwin Winkler’s telling of the life of famed songwriter Cole Porter. Kevin Kline stars as Porter, with Ashley Judd as his loving wife Linda, who was well aware that the composer was gay and even tolerated his extramarital affairs—so long as they stayed discreet. Despite a mixed reception, De-Lovely is a fascinating watch thanks to its cast of musicians who perform Porter’s songs diegetically, from Alanis Morisette to Robbie Williams.
Streams on Kanopy, Tubi, PlutoTV, and The Roku Channel. Available for rental on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
Far From Heaven
Before Carol, gay filmmaker Todd Haynes explored queerness in the 1950s with Far From Heaven, a drama that also touched on racism and sexism in a time of rapidly changing social mores. A heartbreaking Julianne Moore anchors the film as a picture-perfect housewife who discovers her husband’s (Dennis Quaid) illicit gay affair, which leads her to question what she wants out of life. In the style of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas from the era, Far From Heaven is a moving re-contextualization of the past.
Streams on Starz. Available for rental on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
Gods And Monsters
Decades the success of his features Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein, director James Whale lives life as a recluse in his Hollywood home, fragile after multiple strokes and battling depression. But things begin to change when he hires a handsome young gardener named Clayton Boon, and the two strike up an uneasy friendship. Sir Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, and Brendan Fraser star in this haunting drama from Kinsey and Dreamgirls director Bill Condon.
Streams on PlutoTV and Freevee. Available for rental on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
A Single Man
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s acclaimed novel, A Single Man is the stylish and meditative directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, which features a few names already mentioned in this list. Collin Firth stars as George Falconer, a college professor still grieving the loss of his longtime partner. George plans to take his own life, but first goes about his day, visiting his loving friend Charley (Julianne Moore) and connecting with a curious young student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult).
Streams on Kanopy, Tubi, Vudu, and The Roku Channel. Available for rental on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Oh Tom Ripley, one of pop culture’s most infamous chaotic queers. As the titular “talent” of Anthony Minghella’s psychological thriller, Matt Damon is never better, expertly toeing the line between charming and utterly unsettling as Ripley inserts himself into the glamorous life of cultured shipping heir, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Interestingly enough, the film is adapted from a popular novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote Carol‘s source material—both of which star Cate Blanchett!
Streams on Netflix, Amazon, Paramount+, and PlutoTV. Available for rental on Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.