Literary queerness hasn’t often survived the process of adaptation to the screen. Films have committees and boards and funding partners behind them, that can cut representation of queer, trans or BAME issues even more dramatically than in other forms of entertainment. The relationship between Celie and Shug in The Colour Purple is turned from an explicitly erotic and intimate sexual relationship into a sisterly kiss in Steven Spielberg’s 1992 version. The love between lesbians Idge and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes is sublimated into a very intense but platonic friendship in the film. However, there’s definitely a rich and ever-growing canon of queer lit and film to draw inspiration from.

Here are a few more of our favourite cinematic adaptations. What are your must-watches and/or must-reads?

Death in Venice

Thomas Mann (1912) / Luchino Visconti (1971)

Thomas Mann’s haunting novella tracks the inspiration, suffering and ultimately fatal desire of an older male writer for a beautiful young boy. The protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach, is suffering from writer’s block. When he first sees Tadzio, an aristocratic Polish boy with classical good looks, he is at first interested only from an aesthetic point of view. As the text develops, Aschenbach realises the erotic nature of his desire and an intertextual struggle between Apollonian restraint and Dionysean passion plays out. Visconti’s adaptation of the film is largely faithful to the novel’s scenes, with the crucial change of Aschenbach’s profession to composer. Visconti’s opulent style is enhanced by a soaring Gustav Mahler soundtrack. The cinematography is painterly, and the sets and costumes as opulent as Mann’s writing is sober, but the film hauntingly captures the transcendent suffering and degradation of the artist for love.

The Price of Salt/Carol

Patricia Highsmith / Todd Haynes

Highsmith’s novel was originally published under a pseudonym, because of the stigma associated with a lesbian romance. Unusually for the gay pulp novels of its time, which were usually sordid tales with moralistic tragic endings, Highsmith’s book has a happy ending. The story was inspired by a brief encounter Highsmith had with a blonde woman in a fur coat, Kathleen Senn, while working at Bloomingdale's in New York City in 1948. The novel follows the relationship between Therese Belivet, a young student, and Carol Aird, a more experienced woman going through a divorce. Haynes’ adaptation, with a wonderful screenplay written by Phyllis Nagy captures the slow burn of desire between the two protagonists and the many different pressures on the two characters from their respective milieus. The two women must make compromises in order to be together and Aird risks the custody of her child. Ultimately both the film and novel provide complicated, important portraits of a beautiful relationship.

A Single Man

Christopher Isherwood (1964) / Tom Ford (2009)

Tom Ford’s directorial debut is a wonderful homage to Isherwood’s original novella. With elegant additions and expansions of the plot, it adapts the source material for its new cinematic form and reflects both Ford’s and Isherwood’s impeccable style. Taking place over the course of a single day, A Single Man follows middle-aged college professor George Falconer as he goes about his life in Los Angeles. Falconer’s grief for the recent sudden death of his longtime partner, Jim, pervades the book and the film, adding weight to his interactions with and coloring everyday moments with a poignant beauty. A Single Man is Isherwood at his most compressed brilliance, and the novella vies for masterpiece status with his other classics, the Berlin fiction, Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. Isherwood’s other screen adaptations include the Liza Minelli-starring Cabaret (1972) and the BBC Television adaptation of Isherwood’s memoirs, Christopher and His Kind (2011)

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson (1985) / Beeban Kidron (1990

Winterson’s modern classic is a coming-of-age and coming-out tale inspired by the author’s youth as the daughter of a religious zealot and her decision to leave everything behind for love. A sixteen-year-old in Manchester, the narrator Jeanette has been brought up under an English Pentecostal regime and seems destined to become a missionary, preaching about the Biblical punishments to be inflicted on sinners. However, Jeanette finds herself attracted to girls and has to find the strength of will to reject her adopted mother’s attempted exorcisms. Winterson wrote the screenplay for the BBC adaptation and it loses nothing of its edge and the central theme of fighting against repression and the patriarchy is well represented for a show that took a primetime evening television slot.

The Tempest

William Shakespeare / Derek Jarman (1979)

An example of queerness being brought out from the text by a new artist, Jarman’s adaptation of The Tempest is full of the filmmaker’s typical lushness and his willingness to experiment. Jarman was obsessed with the aesthetics of the Renaissance, especially the symbolism of Shakespeare’s work, and the magic of alchemy. Jarman’s adaptation represents the aging magician Prospero’s dark island in labyrinthian candlelight, his beautiful daughter Miranda (played by Toyah Wilcox) is sensually in love with the castaway prince Ferdinand. The shadowy characters, eclectic costumes and sweeping music subvert this English classic with an avant-garde sensibility. Shakespeare was a writer for the common man of his time, his plays meant for the lowliest of his audience as much as the highest, and Jarman’s interpretation radically restores the play to people outside of the establishment.

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