Melbourne Queer Film Festival's Affinity is an 1870’s era ghost story whose tale is sullen with lesbian undertones.
Affinity, Director Tim Fywell’s (The Ice Princess), made for television adaptation of Sarah Waters novel of the same name, makes its return to Melbourne this month as the Queer Film Festival’s closing film. Returning to the festival due to popular demand, Affinity is another example of an Andrew Davies’ penned period drama, with the Waters novels Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith having also been adapted to the screen in recent years. An 1870’s era ghost story whose tale, sullen with lesbian undertones, follows the movements of a wealthy young lady Margaret (Anna Madeley) who, suffering from the recent death of her father and marriage of her female lover to her brother, undertakes a charitable position visiting prisoners at a conveniently sparse and creepy woman’s jail. It is during these visits to the prison that she becomes increasingly taken by Selina, an inmate convicted of murder, and a seemingly troubled purveyor of psychic notions who opens her to the idea of a world away from the Victorian expectations of marriage and children.
The film is perfectly suited for the 12pm genre, which is one of those midday movies who to all appearances do nothing wrong; but essentially do nothing really at all. The film’s looks and feels as though the crew of Neighbours got together during their lunch break with the idea of ghosts, apparitions and lesbians infiltrating their creative juices and it shows. Affinity lacks the polish and class of cinema and stands as the structured and controlled, made for television drama that it is. Some of the images look nice enough, but are let down in the production. The costumes are fine, the sets prop like, but there is no great individuality about them, nothing to set them apart. In fact this seems to be the major problem with the film. Everything is just how it should be. The narrative leaves nothing to the imagination; the voiceover and dialogue spell out a story that has been painfully painted in front of us moments before, relying on clichéd characters and storylines as well worn as a roman road. Each time the story takes a smaller step into its increasingly shallow narrative, we then privy to Margaret’s voiceover, a thinly veiled attempt to entice the audience into her journal and her life. While all the time making certain the audience knows exactly what is happening.
The film is reminiscent of the Hammer Horror film The Vampire Lovers (Roy Ward Baker, 1970) in its attempts to weave sexual repression and lesbian tendencies into a weak storyline. Whereas Hammer films made no attempt at seriousness (they often began production with a title and the producers’ insistence of nipple shots) Affinity perhaps tries a little hard in its attempts to involve Margaret’s sexuality. The ex lover is fittingly happy with Margaret’s brother and the imagery of Selina’s cell as a metaphor for Margaret’s repressed sexuality is fine, but seems unimaginative and overly unoriginal. Sometimes the lesbian subject matter seemed much an afterthought as watering dead flowers, but then again I suppose it had to be there.
It seems interesting that the Festival is closing with the film (obviously a favourite) considering the quality of some of the other features. Still, Affinity maybe the right choice as the Festival’s finale, but then maybe the Festival’s closing night should start at 12pm.
Affinity (Melbourne Queer Film Festival Closing Night Film & Party)
Dir: Tim Fywell, UK, 2008, video, 94min
Session 92 8:30pm Sun 29 March 2009
Back by popular demand! Special screening announced for Monday March 30