Back in 1991, Christopher Marlowe’s notorious 16th century play was radically adapted into a gay cinema masterpiece by late, great queer auteur Derek Jarman.
Using anachronistic imagery, modern dress, gay activists battling riot police and Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter, Edward II tells the story of an openly gay British monarch and the persecution he suffered. It’s given a contemporary resonance by Jarman, paralleling the injustice of homophobia at the time.
King Edward II (Stephen Waddington) rejects his cold wife Queen Isabella (Tilda Swinton) and takes a male lover, the commoner Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan) upon whom he bestows gifts and power. The King’s behavior enrages the sober, business-suited court officials and the spurned queen becomes a seething monster whose dresses and jewelry grow more outrageously lavish as her need to vengeance escalates and the plotting begins.
Edward II is a prime example of “New Queer Cinema” – the indie film movement of the early 1990s. Jarman reworked Marlowe’s play into a homoerotic, sexually charged, radically relevant work. Graphic, brutal, moving, surprisingly funny and always erotic, the film blends prose with contemporary jargon and costumes, replete with positive portrayals of queer sex, profanity and ACT- UP activists.