This piece originally ran in November, but now that Ammonite is finally available to watch on demand, we’re republishing it. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Do you feel confined by the expectations of the era you are born into? Are your desires repressed both literally and metaphorically under several layers of thick fabric? Do you often stare out across a cold, gray, windswept beach and wish for more? Individual circumstances may vary, but odds are good that you may in fact be stuck within the plot of a serious lesbian period drama. Perhaps it’s something like the great French romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire or the English, fossil-filled Ammonite — or even the American frontier of The World to Come, which I haven’t seen yet but looks pretty good. The point is, you may soon find yourself developing a dangerously powerful connection with another woman in your life that will change the way you both think about the world and maybe even win you lots of acting accolades. There will be piercing stares. There will be shattering moments of sudden intimacy. There will be men, but mostly on the sidelines. Does this sound like what is happening to you? Are you, too, in a serious lesbian period drama? Work through this checklist to be sure.
1) You are stuck at a remote beach for a prolonged period.
Remote beaches — often foggy, near picturesque cliffs, with plenty space for social-distanced eye-fucking — are where everything happens. Especially if you happen to be near marriage and/or convalescing due to a sickness, which may just be marriage. The sea will heal you, or if it does not heal you, it will at least provide a nice place for you to escape the men and/or ailments that plague you (again, these are probably the same thing). If you are not by a sad beach — say, instead, you’re in the midst of the darkly comical palace intrigues of The Favourite — you cannot be in a truly serious lesbian period romance.
2) You’ve ended up spending a lot of time with a woman who does not share your social background or hair color.
Both aspects of this are equally important. If you’re someone with a wealthy husband, the woman you spend a lot of time with is probably a painter or artist with her own means. If you make a living collecting fossils and having your work overlooked by the men at various scientific academies, the woman you spend a lot of time with probably does not do that. More importantly, this distinction in relative freedom and class must be underlined by a difference in hair color. Preferably blonde and brunette, so that everyone can easily tell the difference. Perhaps you are in a situation that does not differentiate by hair color, such as the film Disobedience, and this is a clear sign that you are not in a period film. I wish you and your spitting adventures well.
3) You pose together with one person in profile, the other turned slightly toward the camera.
This is known as “The ABBA” (see photos above).
4) You wear a lot of clothing, which is metaphorical.
Just so much fabric! Fabric that may even cover everything but your eyes! Fabric that may be dramatically shucked off layer after layer when you arrive at a climactic sex scene, which is not like eating a sandwich. The clothes are clothes, of course, but they, like everything else, are also a metaphor.
5) The food is either very good, or very bad.
This depends on whether you are in France or England.
6) The men in your life are afterthoughts, if they are even seen.
Men, as they usually are, are a bad oppressive force in your life and the lives of those around you, but since you have escaped to this secluded windswept beach, they are not around much, which makes things better. Maybe you barely see them, maybe they were rudely snubbed of a Tony nomination for their work in a revival of Angels in America and you still barely see them. The point is, they are just occasional specters, haunting the fringes, being critical, writing stuff like this.
7) Things do not necessarily turn out so well.
Not to spoil anything, but we must always be reminded of the constraints of the era to an extent, and the many hurdles to making all this possible. We can’t just have people figure out how to be happy easily, that’s not the makings of a serious gay love story.
8) There’s another woman who sees all this happening and is like, sure!
Maybe it’s a maid, maybe it’s legendary actress Fiona Shaw, but she’s here for you both, and we love that for her.
If each and every one of these above conditions apply, you just might be in a serious lesbian period romance. If this is the case, please remember to keep calm, practice shivering (both out of nervous love and because you are somehow still cold underneath all of your clothing), and brace for the awards recognition that will surely come your way for bravely telling this story.