5 Queer Films Playing at the BFI London Film Festival 2021

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The BFI London Film Festival is back, showcasing the best new films, TV series and VR, in person at cinemas across the country and online for 2021.

Among the jam packed line-up are some wonderfully queer films to look out for – we’ve picked out five of the most highly anticipated.


In his first film about an openly gay man, Terence Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives) casts Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi to play poet Siegfried Sassoon as a young man and in later life. Convalescing in a veterans’ hospital, and conveniently out of the public eye after publishing work that was sharply critical of the military decision-makers, Sasoon meets Wilfred Owen, a tender first relationship (if more of mind than body). Employing a signature collage-style narrative that intercuts dramatic scenes with more expressive sequences, Davies counterpoints key moments in Sassoon’s life – his relationships with Ivor Novello and the aristocrat Stephen Tennant, as well as his later marriage to a woman – with beautiful readings of his poetry over montages of real images of soldiers in wartime. Featuring a wonderfully understated performance from Lowden, it’s a moving tribute to Sassoon, who grew to old age with bitter regret, having been unable to love and desire freely. It is also an elegant, mournful work that reflects on British queer histories. (Tricia Tuttle)

Great Freedom (Grosse Freiheit)

In post-war Germany, Hans (a remarkable performance from Franz Rogowski) finds himself repeatedly incarcerated in a high-security prison. With Paragraph 175 outlawing the ‘unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex’, Hans is continually forced to pay a heavy price for his desire to live an authentic life. As the decades roll by, Hans finds a succession of lovers during his stints behind bars, but one constant emerges in his fractured existence – his friendship with cell mate Viktor. Serving a life sentence for murder, Viktor’s initial hostility and revulsion towards Hans slowly begins to thaw, and over time the unlikely pair develop an intense and primal bond. Set across three different timelines, Sebastian Meise’s arresting drama offers a powerful reflection on historical injustice and the persecution of homosexuals, as seen through the eyes of one man. It is a hard-hitting, often uncompromising piece of work, yet beneath its tough exterior lies a deeply unsentimental, disarmingly tender love story that is almost impossible to forget. (Michael Blyth)


This tender interview between film director Jonas and his school friend Amin, years after they first met, blossoms into an extraordinary story of love, survival and resilience. Vibrant animation paints the story of Amin’s departure from what had been a happy childhood home in Afghanistan, subsequently fractured by war, to his current life as a successful academic in Denmark. As he prepares to take the next step in his commitment to long-term partner Kasper, Amin recalls his former fears of persecution and how there wasn’t a word for homosexuality in Afghanistan. Memories whirl up in brushstrokes; bright days from a child’s-eye view, the subdued hue of limbo, and the bright pink headphones that punctuate his story with bouncing carefree 80s hits. Until now, Amin has never shared his full story, for a secret threatens to destabilise the life he has built. It’s a compelling film that contemplates the meaning of home. (Sophie Brown)


Adapted from Judith Brown’s ‘Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy’, Benedetta tells a story that scandalised Florence in the early 1600s: an infamous nun rose to local power as a mystic, but was subsequently charged with committing scandalous heretic acts (trying to pass off self-inflicted stigmata as miraculous, having a long passionate affair with another nun). It’s a stranger-than-fiction true story that in the hands of the provocateur who gave us Showgirls and Elle, becomes even wilder – both in satire and fetishisation – and a whole lot of fun. Whether fantasising about a hunky Christ or repurposing a statuette of the Virgin Mary, the excellent Virginie Efira enthrals as Benedetta, seamlessly shifting from sincere intensity to scheming camp as the scenes demand. She’s matched by a superb Charlotte Rampling as the convent’s Abbess. And Belgian rising star Daphné Patakia also impresses as Benedetta’s young lover Bartolomea. Lusciously shot by director of photography Jeanne Lapoirie (frequent Catherine Corsini and Robin Campillo collaborator), this is typically tonally complex filmmaking from Verhoeven and a welcome return for a long-time LFF favourite. (Tricia Tuttle)


As played with intoxicating perfection by Kristen Stewart, who dominates almost every scene of Spencer, Diana is dying on the vine, showing only flashes of her former effervescence. Hers is the world’s most scrutinised persona since she began living the fairy-tale life of a girl who grew up to marry a prince; in reality, her husband rather publicly loves someone else. She’s also suffocating under the expectations of total subservience to Royal protocol. Working from a beautiful script by Steven Knight, Larraín (Jackie) ingeniously depicts a world in which every polished spoon and heavy curtain, every steely stare from staff, even a seemingly ‘jolly’ Christmas tradition, expresses Her Majesty’s disapproval of the young princess. The exquisite craft of Spencer makes you want to freeze every moment. director of photography Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) shoots in 4:3 ratio with a micro-universe of colour emerging from the muted environments designed by Guy Hendrix Dyas. And Jonny Greenwood, with one of several great scores at LFF 2021, illuminates Diana’s internal tussle with solo piano and strings. It’s oppressive, until it isn’t anymore. Stewart and Larraín deliver a finale that will break your heart and make it skip all at once. (Tricia Tuttle)

View the full BFI London Film Festival 2021 programme and book tickets at

Written by: Queerly

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