BFI Flare: 2019

It’s Flare time once more at London’s BFI Southbank, which means ten days of the best LGBTQ+ cinema around. The curtain-raiser is Chanya Button’s sophomore feature, the 1922-set Vita & Virginia, which chronicles the love affair between literary icons Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), a romance that led to the creation of one of the great novels of the era, Woolf’s Orlando. Scripted by Button and Eileen Atkins, the story comes from Atkins’ own 1992 stage play, itself was inspired by the lovers’ letters. 

Another love affair is at the heart of Tell It To Bees, Annabel Jankel’s drama set in 1950s rural Scotland. Holliday Grainger (Strike) plays Lydia, a married mother whose close bond with the town’s new doctor Jean (Anna Paquin) becomes something more heated. With the gossipy townsfolk watching closely as Lydia and her son move into Jean’s house, Jankel’s film is more than just a good old-fashioned melodrama. It’s a striking look at just how difficult (and dangerous) same-sex relationships were in the past. 

For those hunting for something a bit more risqué, Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart might be just the ticket. Highly influenced by the controversial thrillers by Brian De Palma (Dressed To Kill) and Dario Argento (Suspiria) that dominated late 1970s cinema, it’s a bloody tale of murder and mayhem set in the world of gay porn. Vanessa Paradis plays a producer of third-rate skin flicks who gets caught up in a deadly game when one of her actors is brutally slain. For those who feel the need, the screening will be followed by a Knife + Heartinspired club night at the BFI. 

Meanwhile, on the documentary side, Halstonis the latest film from Frédéric Tcheng, who made Dior and I. Dealing with the titular 1970s American designer, and his rise to international fame, Tcheng’s film features the likes of Liza Minnelli and filmmaker Joel Schumacher as it sets out to unpick his life, loves and business empire. 

Closing the festival is another coup, Justin Kelly’s JT LeRoy. Detailing one of the biggest literary scandals of all time, Kristen Stewart plays Savannah Knoop, whose writings were published under the guise of LeRoy, a 19 year-old street kid later revealed to be a ruse invented by Knoop’s sister Laura Albert (Laura Dern). Intriguingly, Knoop herself will be coming to the festival for a Q&A, which should make for a fascinating end to an impressive ten days. 

BFI Flare: London LGBT+ Film Festival takes place at the BFI Southbank from 21 March-31 March. For more details, visit:

James Mottram

1. Still from
Tell it to the Bees.