The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)

A movie based on the real life of Anne Lister. She was a wealthy, unmarried woman who inherited Shibden Hall in West Yorkshire from her uncle in 1826. Throughout her life, she kept diaries which chronicled the details of her everyday life, including her lesbian relationships, her financial concerns, her industrial activities and her work improving Shibden Hall.
Go watch it!


Title: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
Year: 2010
Language: UK (English)

Plot: The true story of Anne Lister, set in Yorkshire in the 1900s, a wealthy orphan under the guardianship of her aunt and uncle rejects their attempts to suit her with a husband as she lives her secret life as a lesbian which she documents in her secret diaries.

Basic Review:

  • Based on a true story, this film ignited a sense of imagination as this woman’s story was fascinating.
  • Anne Lister, the film’s protagonist was a well-off woman who, due to her wealth, was able to live the life she wished. Because of this we see a strong, capable lesbian woman who is sure of herself and confident enough to stand up to the likes of anyone who comes in her way.
  • The film also includes two women “marrying” each other, which in that time would have been illegitimate, yet extremely ground breaking.
  • The costumes were great and the main actress, Maxine Peake, portrays Anne Lister perfectly.
  • Overall, it is a great film. If you appreciate period pieces you will definitely enjoy this. It reminded me a lot of Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith and Affinity… only without the, at times crazy, and indecisive lesbian dramas!
  • This character was a strong, independent woman who knew what she wanted and pursued it. What’s more is, she left behind a number of diaries (over 4 million words worth) which were weaved throughout the film and used as insight into the way women, particularly lesbian women, may have lived in the 1800s thus providing us with a fascinating legacy never to be forgotten.

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Current affairs, world politics, the arts and more from Britain’s award-winning magazine

I had a chance to watch the film The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (picture above) after reading about her and her diaries that kept her secret life as an unforgiving proud lesbian. You all will come to know that I do enjoy history but I enjoy history more knowing the secrets and hidden truths that are found and preserved by brave people. From the article:

We climb the stairs to a small room on the first floor, where a wall swings forward to expose empty wooden shelves. “There,” he says, gesturing proudly at the bare shelves. “That’s where they were.”It might look like an empty cupboard, but this is a very important empty cupboard. Anne’s descendant John Lister rediscovered her diaries in the late 19th century and managed to transcribe some of the coded portions. A scandalized friend urged him to destroy the volumes, and fearing his own reputation would be destroyed by the hint of a hereditary taint of homosexuality, John agreed not to make the diaries public. But, as a keen antiquarian, he could not bring himself to destroy documents of such historical significance. Instead, he hid them away behind the wall in his library to await a time when Anne Lister’s life would be celebrated, rather than condemned. 

What is remarkable about the movie is how I can imagine how bold it was for her to kiss the woman she loved with the consequences of being caught hanging over her and her lover’s heads. I can never imagine being ostracized even today for such a public act, or even worse, imprisoned for being speculated to have had homosexual relations with the same sex. For that reason I appreciate findings such as this one because it shows just how far the world has come with issues too strange to consider.

Source: United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO

This Unique set of diaries (1806-1840) which run to four million words were written by Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire (1791-1840) a remarkable landowner, business woman, intrepid traveller, mountaineer and lesbian.

The diaries include a wealth of information about politics, business, estate management, religion, education and reading, science, medicine, travel, and local and national events, as this important area of Yorkshire experienced the rapid effects of the Industrial Revolution, seen from the viewpoint of an extremely well-educated and pioneering.  It is her comprehensive and painfully honest account of lesbian life and reflections on her nature, however, which have made these diaries unique.  They have shaped and continue to shape the direction of UK Gender Studies and Women’s History.