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Lesbian Sex and Relationships in Film

Lesbian Sex and Relationships in Film

What was the Casting Director Thinking?

I am someone who has been in love with movies of all kinds since the moment I saw Anne Bancroft straddle the bar stool and finger her earring in The Graduate. That same year (1967) the extraordinary film The Fox starring Anne Heywood, Sandy Dennis and Keir Dullea was released in limited theatres. It literally drew me into a world that transcended all other movies I’d ever seen. Two women were living together. Two women were in love with each other. Two women were naked- together. And though the two actresses were superficially not a match, I believed them. I believed that they were meant to be together. That they had a real relationship with all of its angst and misery and crying and caring and laughing. I knew that I’d choose Anne Heywood over Keir Dullea. Thus began my decades long fascination with lesbian films and particularly the choices casting directors make as they try to give us believable couples. Hats off to those savvy film makers who got it right and a what were you thinking? to the others. If you watch lesbian movies to see great stories and believable couples, then watch the ones that got it right.

In 2007, Daphne  was released. Janet McTeer, a incredibly gifted actress who has never acknowledged her sexuality, (wink wink) played Gertrude Lawrence. Geraldine Somerville took the “please can I come out as Gertrude’s lover” role of the uber famous author Daphne du Maurier. McTeer, a six foot beauty with grace and sensuality nearly over powered the frail bird like Somerville, but when they came together under the sheets, they matched. They smoldered. And, Janet, you seemed to know all too well exactly what to do.

Which couples stand out as the ones the filmmaker got right? Piper Perabo and anyone. Lena Heady and Piper, Jessica Pare and Piper. Piper just being with Piper. Okay, I have a tiny crush on Piper. But, a big crush on Lisa Ray. No matter what I will write for any journal or web site, I will invariably find a way to talk about Lisa Ray. She and Sheetal Sheeth just match perfectly. It is such a great match that it is hard to believe they aren’t a real couple. We like the stories told in their movies. I just have to say it one more time. Those lips, those lips, those fabulous lips!

And who can deny that Elena Undone got it so right. Necar Zadegan and Traci Dinwiddle (Elena and Peyton) started out awkward and mis-matched but in the end we all wanted to buy them a wedding present. It was not a unique storyline, but the parts directly involving the two women had some of the best lines I’d heard in a movie in a long time. Those bodies just melted into each other as though methodically carved to fit side by side or thigh on thigh or lips on neck. Whew.

I seem to find that the French and the Italians may go overboard in writhing, but they get the women right. When I want a night of erotica, I watch Exterminating Angels. The French somehow get it. This is a movie about casting straight women to display fake orgasms either alone, in lesbian pairs or groups. It is pure voyeurism. So, it does have some of the worst/best sex scenes. Lots of nudity, lots of moaning, lots of, well, you get it. I do expect rentals of this movie to skyrocket now. It is billed as an erotic masterpiece and lives up to that moniker. Watch Room in Rome and you witness a night of two women who have come together only for a night of incredible sex, but in the end discover so much more about each other and themselves. The sex is the vehicle to a revealing story.

The worst lesbian sex scenes seem to have the dubious distinction of having mismatched lovers. The lovers who just are trying way too hard to look comfortable with each other. The lovers who silently scream I just don’t want to touch this person. The lovers who leave us feeling embarrassed to be watching the film. Bloomington made me squirm. Amazon older woman and little girl. Not a match. Loving Annabelle brought up the same issues for me. Remember Bar Girls? Everyone was mis-matched. Were we so hungry for lesbian films in 2002 that we thought this was a good film? I couldn’t wrap my head around Ely and Max in Go Fish or Kelly McGillis and Susie Porter in Monkey’s Mask. Claire of the Moon? We wanted it to be so much more. I still have trouble watching Tilda Swinton naked in any film. She is a great actress, but once again I was uncomfortable with her sex scenes in Female Perversions. Great film but not a great lovers match.

The increase in lesbian themed films over the past four decades has provided us with a multitude of incredible experiences- good or bad. A response to a film is in the eye of the beholder. You resonate with a film because the story hits home, the characters win you over, the filming is outstanding, or sometimes the film is so bad that you laugh and bemoan the rental fee.  The important thing is that there is now a wide choice. You don’t need to settle for mediocre. Good films with good matching lovers and unique stories and high quality cinematography are not so rare anymore. As a lesbian film lover that wants great films, you know the difference between bad cinema and great. My charge to you: Rent these movies and let me know if you agree or disagree and why.

Jan Miller Corran, Ph.D., is CEO/President of More Than Friends Productions (MTF). Dr. Corran is a film producer with numerous films to her credit as Executive Producer, Associate Producer or consultant. For a list of her books and films, visit


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  • Linda Price says:

    The woman knows her movies. Her insight is right on and I hope to hear more from her. Now I am going to rent “Exterminating Angels”

  • Liz says:

    Chemistry and intimacy is the right combination for a believable satisfying film. A Perfect Ending was spot on in my book!

  • jane graham says:

    Make Jan your film critic. Warm, witty and wise.

  • Danielle says:

    So true! The film “Elena Done,” did a fantastic job with capturing the chemistry between the two characters. It was absolutely wonderful watching the relationship between these two characters unfold through time.

    It was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.

    I agree, after watching “Bloomington,” and “Loving Annebella” I had a hard time watching the whole thing.

    There was absolutely zero chemistry between the two characters. I watched “Female Perversions,” and although the lead in that film is an absolutely fantastic actress, the scenes in the film were very uncomfortable to watch and almost painful too. I think it went hand and hand with the storyline as well.

    They really didn’t elaborate more on the lesbian storyline and it was so short. “Rome In Rome,” I thought was a good film. It reminded me of a film that just came out last year “28 Hotel Rooms,” similar storyline of two people meeting in a hotel.

    In “Rome In Rome,” I probably would have wanted there to be a slower pace in the beginning of them meeting each other, before “the big badda bing, badda boom,” sex scenes.

    Cinematography wise, it was outstanding.

    There was a lot of chemistry between the two characters, and it made you want to watch more. I think that’s what’s missing in lesbian films. Slowly we’re getting there I think.

    I particularly love the director of “High Art” and her appropriate especially in all of her films, Lisa Cholodenko.

    Less is more. She allows the storyline and the characters to build, towards the love scenes. She captures the gay community in a beautiful way. I’ve never seen “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” still waiting to see that film. To me, honestly I felt that lesbian films, especially when scenes are used in the bedroom, should be directed, and written by a female base. I was actually having a discussion the other day with a friend of mine about it. I read an article about the two female actresses and how uncomfortable they were with filming those scenes, as a male director, directing something like that, it’s like someone saying, ” I’m directing you on how to be a women, how to share a intimate moment with another women and this is how you do it. and I know because I’m a man.” It makes me laugh sometimes because if it’s under those circumstances from a male point of view, the love scenes will seem more of a pornographic approach.

    Which adds more reason to the conversation on why, love scenes 100 percent should be directed by women. “Elena Undone,” was a brilliant film, capturing characters that are very relatable, and capturing beautiful chemistry on scene.

    You had mentioned another topic, that was absolutely on point. It’s sad that through time, critics show appreciation after it’s being placed on dvd. I never knew that ”

    Rome In Rome,” came out until it was released on Netflix.

  • Lana Spencer says:

    Danielle said most of what I was going to say. There are many excellent films with lesbian stories and excellent acting. Jan Corran has the obvious wit and intelligence to be our eyes and ears to recommended movies. Please ask Jan to keep us pointed to the films worth watching for all of these reasons. I like her writing very much.