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Biased movie review: “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” (2010)

url6Spoilers ahead.

Since last year, I’ve made it a point to catch most (if not all) of top 20 lesbian films of all time. “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” is very high in that list. And there’s an obvious reason why it’s in that list: it’s very good! L-O-V-E!

“The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” (2010) is loosely based on the true story of Anne Lister of Halifax. Any self-respecting lesbian would have known of her story and her diaries. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

While I think it’s unfortunate that more than 20 years of her life is condensed into just roughly 90 minutes of film, the presentation and delivery of her story is excellent. It has great direction, good lighting, great make-up and costume (and wigs too!) and beautiful locations. I can do without the unsteady camera works, though. A few of the scenes were filmed in the moors, and now I can understand why the Brontës loved the moors very much.


Anne and Marianna during their happier times, frolicking in the woods

The star-studded cast has Maxine Peake as Anne Lister, Anna Madeley as Marianna Belcombe/Lawton, Susan Lynch as Isabella Norcliffe/Tib and Christine Bottomley as Ann Walker. Of course, must mention other great talents as well: Gemma Jones, Alan David and Richenda Carey. Amazing cast! Director is James Kent, written by Jane English, music by Avshalom Caspi, costume by Theresa Rymer, make-up and hair by Joyce Dean, and historical consultant is Helena Whitbread. If you have read some publications of the diaries, then Helena Whitbread’s name would be very familiar to you.


One-sixth of her diaries were written in code which she devised combining letters from Greek and algebra – an indication of her level of education too.
“Mrs. Priestley needs a new hair style. Her current one is vulgar.”

Anyway, “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” tells about Anne Lister and the story of her life and love, as told by Anne Lister herself. Many lines from the film are taken from the diaries, which I thought is very awesome! It’s like they breathe life into the diaries! Of course, condensing more than 20 years into 90 minutes would require some “creative licence”, but even so, audience unfamiliar with the real story wouldn’t really feel any incoherence in the story.


“Have you always kept your journal?”
“No, not properly, but when I do, I write 4000 words in one sitting.”

The story opens with Anne and Marianna’s love affair in full swing. However, it’s quickly killed by Marianna’s decision to marry her father’s friend, Charles Lawton. Anne naturally is devastated, but then, oddly enough, Marianna reappears in her life and their love affair resumes. However, Anne eventually realizes that Marianna’s love is “cowardly”, and so Anne dumps her. Soon, by circumstance of events, she teams up with Ann Walker and their relationship turns into more than business partners.

I like how the character Ann Walker has always been in the background in the film, which implies that she’s part of the society too. Anne knows her, but it’s just that Anne has never thought of as “potential” until later.

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“Sign the disclaimer here and I’ll teach you how to use a pistol.”

Maxine Peake as Anne Lister – amazing! When she cries, your heart cries with her. When she holds her breath, you stop breathing as well. When she wants to free herself form the tyranny of fashion, you want to take up arms. Of course, Anna Madeley, Susan Lynch and Christine Bottomley are amazing too. The cast simply speaks of the truth about lesbians in general; we’re a bunch of very good-looking people!


The good-looking women of Halifax and their wigs. Except Anna Madeley. I think that’s real hair!

I love the background music by Avshalom Caspi. Very unimposing. The song which I dubbed “The song to the key of Anne Lister” is amazing! There are several variations of it throughout the film to suit Anne’s different moods. The film opens with the upbeat version of it and hearing it, it just makes me smile. Of course, I have a secret crush on Anna Madeley. But that’s irrelevant information!


Look into my eyes and tell me I’m beautiful.

Like most LGBT films, all of the characters are depicted as real human – there are no good guys or bad guys. All of them are just humans trying to live their lives as best as they know how. And of course, in doing so, they get hurt and they hurt others as well. Marianna’s character is interesting. While I don’t doubt her love for Anne, her need to be accepted by society, living a respectable lifestyle is stronger. In doing so, unfortunately she loses the one woman who loves her all her heart; the one who would accept her back even after her “legal prostitution” called marriage.

The argument between Anne and Marianna after Anne walks across the moors like a mad woman would be more awesome if it was shown in one shot. The argument is short (just slightly more than 2 minutes) and a whole range of emotions are going on in that scene. All of those in one shot would be drool-worthy indeed!


“You live in a girlish dream! Yes, we might live as companions, but the way you are with me… Think! People would smoke us in days.”
“What do you mean GIRLISH?!”

For a film set in the 19th century, it certainly has a lot of make-out scenes. The single sex scene is eye candy, I think! No implants — that’s all we ask for! But somehow, I think it’s quite disturbing that lesbians in the 19th century were getting more action than I am in 21st century!

All in all, I’ve seen the film more than I care to count. Have I memorized all the words? I shall not make myself sound like I have nothing better to do, and so I will say of course not! Can I name my sentiment for the film? Perfect esteem!

And I will make it a point to read Lord Byron’s works ;)!


Romance according to “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” (2010)

“The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister” (2010): love-LOVE-love!

Below are memorable quotes from the film. Of course, the quotes are entirely based on the film alone, and not the diaries. However, some dialogues were actually taken from the diaries.

poster“I was not born to live alone. I must have someone with me, and in loving and being loved, I could be happy.” -Anne Lister

“A thousand recollections crowd on me in my own secret alphabet. Surely no one has ever doted on another as I her. I love her, and her heart is mine.” -Anne Lister

Marianna: “Are you sure it’s safe?”
Anne: “From all but the eyes of God.”
Marianna: “Oh, Freddie. You give the best kisses.”

“I can live upon hope. You cannot doubt the love of one who has waited so long and patiently. I will be constant and never feel a wish for any other.” -Anne Lister


Anne (Maxine Peake)  and Mariana (Anna Madeley) on those happier days

“I have made up my mind always to wear black, to free myself from the tyranny of fashion.” – Anne Lister

Anne: “I’ve decided to publish, and as I have yet to settle on a subject I must read widely. I wish for a name in the world.”
Aunt: “A husband’s name might stand you in better stead.”

“What if I should, by and by, meet with another? Such is our imperfect nature that dissipation may prove more efficacious than reflection.” – Anne Lister

Miss Browne: “You…have such a penetrating countenance.”
Anne: “Well, sometimes I’m more anxious to be penetrating than at others.”

Miss Browne: “Oh, you have a romantic nature. I admire that.”
Anne: “I find a slight tincture of romance in a character makes one more agreeable, don’t you think?”

“I always consult my…inclination. I find cultivating a complimentary strain with ladies makes life more agreeable to us all.” – Anne Lister

“And when was the last time… anyone played on your flute?” – Isabella Norcliffe

Anne: “How often are you connected with him?”
Marianna: “Don’t.”
Anne: “Do you get pleasure from it? Do you?”
Marianna: “Only through thinking of you.”
Anne: “Then you do get pleasure from it.”
Marianna: “Don’t ask me these questions. You’ve no idea what I suffer.”
Anne: “What you suffer? What you suffer? You chose him! You were not innocent.”

“Knowing Mariana has been the ruin of my health and happiness. What is her match but legal prostitution?” – Anne Lister


“Consider it an engagement. The day you come to live with me we shall wear these rings on our fingers.” – Anne Lister

Uncle: “Perhaps if you had a suitor you wouldn’t bother me with these… woodland walks.”
Anne: “And perhaps if I had a woodland walk, I’d have somewhere to take a suitor.”

Anne: “I don’t want a husband. I appreciate your efforts in finding me a suitor, I really do, but you really don’t have to bother.”
Aunt: “But, child, don’t you want a husband and little ones and… and life about the house?”
Anne: “I want my independence. I want to keep my name and… and I want to be a proud Lister until the day I die. Like you both. You are the model of how I wish to live.”
Uncle: “Well…as you wish.”
Anne: “I shan’t be lonely, Aunt. I hope to settle with a female companion.”

“My mind always turns to you and the prospect of a safe mooring. You will not, you cannot forget I am your constant, faithful, affectionate…” – Mariana Lawton

“It doesn’t matter. She’s making plans of her own and you’ve encouraged her. For us to have any hope of living together, you must be faithful. And look on me as your wife.” – Mariana Lawton

“We are to read a chapter of the New Testament at the same time every day, until we can be together again. But, oh, Mariana…my wife and all I love…how the waiting gnaws at me.” – Anne Lister

Anne: “When Charles dies, she will be my companion here at Shibden.”
Isabella: “That could be 20 years yet. Has she not galled you enough?”
Anne: “I will not have another word said against Mariana. You’re jealous!”
Isabella: “And you’re misguided!”

Marianna: “Do we have to keep playing this game? Women can’t marry! We could have a good life, see each other often, if only you wouldn’t insist on us living together.”
Anne: “That’s no life!”
Marianna: “You live in a girlish dream! Yes, we might live as companions, but the way you are with me… Think! People would smoke us in days. We’d be ruined, ridiculed, cut by all society!”
Anne: “Then why have you said you would live with me for so long?”
Marianna: “Because I love you!”
Anne: “A coward love!”
Marianna: “The world is the way it is and we cannot change it!”
Anne: “Then I see you are not the woman of all hours for me. I crave a stronger character. Only in bed are you excellent!”
Marianna: “You cannot live without me.”
Anne: “Oh, but I do. And I cannot bear it any longer. I want to share my life with someone. I want that. Or nothing at all.”

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Maxine Peake and Christine Bottomley (as Ann Walker)

Mrs. Priestley: “… People are insinuating things. Things which may prevent you securing a husband.”
Ann Walker: “I…I don’t…I do not want…a husband.”
Mrs. Priestley: “What?”
Ann Walker: “I do not want a husband.”
Mrs. Priestley: “You! I dare not even say by what unnatural means you have brought her here.”
Anne: “Mrs. Priestley, you yourself always tell people I’m the most natural person you know.”


“Breathe in and when you’re ready, breathe out, and slowly squeeze the trigger.” – Anne Lister

Mariana: “Shy Miss Walker? Is she all that you hope for?”
Anne: “We suit each other. And I like her very much.”
Mariana: “Like? I do believe I could leave Charles now and he would barely notice. He has… acquired other female interests. Might there still be a place for me in your heart?”
Anne: “You made your choice.”
Mariana: “Well, can’t I unmake it? I was foolish… about…trivial things. You can’t love her the way we loved, it’s not possible!”


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