One of the earliest British gay-themed films ever made, this tells the tale of June ‘George’ Buckridge, the soon to be eclipsed star on the TV soap opera Applehurst. We see her relationship with the Baby Doll-like Childie and also the interventions of television executive Mrs Crofts. But does Crofts have her own agenda?
This lesbian drama has the amazing tagline ‘The story of three consenting adults in the privacy of their own home’ which obviously mimics the mantra of liberals and homophobes alike regarding ‘the gays’. It’s also a reference to the wording of The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalising homosexuality.
There’s something aesthetically pleasing about Beryl Reid in all of the films and TV programmes I’ve seen her in. This film is no exception. She plays George and she dominates proceedings whenever she is on screen. Her character is irreverent, rambunctious and a sheer delight. She’s ‘punk’ years before the punk movement actually erupted. Also, notice how she plays her rebellious character to perfection and got under the skin of George. This is very evident in her body language. No unconscious crossing of the legs or keeping them together when she sits down. She can manspread with the best of them. This is a headstrong woman who lives life on her own terms rather than conforming to societal norms regarding how a ‘lady’ should act.
Part of the film takes place in the real life lesbian bar The Gateways Club which was then in Chelsea, just off The Kings Road. The film used the real patrons as extras and it feels so natural it’s as if the crew just went in and filmed without warning. The wide range of cast extras show that the uneducated myth about lesbians being either ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ is a fallacy and the locale provides a fascinating peek inside not just 1960’s Gay London but specifically Lesbian London. George and Childie are also dressed as Laurel and Hardy in this scene which makes it even more joyous, surreal and brilliant.
A primary theme of the film is the power play within the character’s relationships. This is nicely shown in the ‘contrition game’ scene in which rather than being degraded by George’s task, Childie makes herself enjoy it thus taking away the power from George and being in control herself.
The film depicts it’s characters like human beings with all of their foibles rather than as freaks in a sideshow to be leered and grimaced at by ‘them there normal folks’. The film prompted a new discussion on societal perceptions of gay people in a Britain in which homosexuality had just been decriminalised (this was carried out in 1967- the year before this film was released).
The Killing of Sister George was unsurprisingly very contentious with the unenlightened British Board of Film Classification when it was due to be released. The main bone of contention was with the scene between Childie and Mrs Crofts- Crofts kisses and caresses Childie. There is nothing gratuitous about this scene and it is dealt with respectfully and mostly takes place off-screen. From the BBFC Case Study regarding the film-
”(But) the BBFC was adamant that the scene be removed in its entirety. Trevelyan stated that the BBFC was “not prepared as yet to accept lesbian sex to this point.”
It’s unbelieveable today that the BBFC saw to not include this scene not because it may corrupt or adversely influence but because they thought the Great British public would have it’s collective minds blown by such a scene.
The BBFC Case Study on the film notes-
”The BBFC classified The Killing of Sister George as ‘X’ in February 1969, with the encounter between Mrs Crofts and Childie deleted. Nevertheless, a number of local authorities across the UK banned the film even in this version. The Greater London Council allowed the film to be shown within its authority area with minor edits. The increase in the age bar for ‘X’ films from 16 to 18 in 1970 saw some local authorities relent on their previous decision and allow the film to be shown under this higher age restriction.”
Today the film is thankfully uncut. This movie is an amazing time capsule, a perceptive and all too revealing glimpse into human relationships and a groundbreaking slice of LGBT history- a history that generally erases lesbians altogether. This film noisily and joyously bucks this trend. And audiences should be truly thankful for that.
5 out of 5