The news that a film’s being made of Patricia Highsmith’s pseudonymously penned lesbian classic The Price of Salt, starring Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowski, got us thinking about some other lesbian literature that would transfer well to the big screen. The following novels have lesbian or bisexual authors, lesbian content, or both, and we think they’d make fine films.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Waters, one of the greatest contemporary authors—lesbian or otherwise—has crafted a mesmerizing tale set largely in a perhaps-haunted, decaying mansion in post–World War II England. It isn’t a lesbian story, although you could read at least one character as closeted, but we would still rush to the theater for a cinematic treatment that does it justice. Waters tantalizes readers with her narrative of spooky goings-on at Hundreds Hall, occupied by a once-prosperous family in reduced circumstances: “natural spinster” Caroline, her troubled war-veteran brother Roderick, and their widowed mother, Mrs. Ayres. You’ll wonder if the happenings are truly supernatural or the work of an outsider obsessed with the house. Alejandro Amenábar, who kept us guessing through The Others, is our choice for director. As far as casting—well, read the book and see what you think.
Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow
Glasgow wrote many acclaimed novels in the first half of the 20th century, and she lived an unconventional life for her time: Never married, she had a long affair with a married man and several close, probably romantic, relationships with women. Barren Ground protagonist Dorinda Oakley embodies much of Glasgow’s independent spirit: She is jilted by the only man she loves but emerges determined to be self-supporting and live on her own terms. The story takes place in rural Virginia as the South rebuilds in the decades after the Civil War. The role of Dorinda demands an actress who is not only beautiful but can age convincingly and evoke sympathy for a woman who’s built a hard shell around her heart. Any ideas?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine—“Merricat”—and her beautiful older sister Constance live in a ramshackle house in a small New England town with their disabled uncle; as Merricat informs us, “Everyone else in my family is dead.” They were poisoned during afternoon tea a few years earlier, and Constance was tried for murder. She was acquitted, but the stigma has clung to the sisters, and the mystery lingers. Butch Merricat, who wishes to have been born a werewolf, has an obsessive, more-than-sisterly love for the earth-motherish Constance; esteemed writer Joyce Carol Oates has described this book as a romance. Published in 1962, it was the last novel by Jackson, who also gave us chills in the iconic novel The Haunting of Hill House and the classic short story “The Lottery,” and it’s every bit as good those works. Given what Rooney Mara pulled off in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we’re thinking of her for Merricat, and maybe Kate Winslet for Constance. Or perhaps Carey Mulligan.
Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest
This beloved Kate Delafield mystery was once set to become a movie starring Mary-Louise Parker as the lesbian detective, but as often happens in Hollywood, the project got derailed on its way to the screen. This tale, which finds LAPD detective Delafield encountering frustrations as she investigates the murder of a homeless young woman whose body was found near a lesbian bar, would indeed make a compelling film. Parker, who’s shown her tough side in Weeds, would probably be a fine lead, but how about some of the actresses who’ve given us great small-screen detectives, like Mariska Hargitay or Kathryn Erbe, both of the Law & Order franchise?
Room by Emma Donoghue
Lesbian scribe Donoghue has reportedly already written a screenplay based on her much-praised novel about a woman and her young son, held captive for years in a single room. The story is told through the eyes of the son, 5-year-old Jack, who has never known any other environment and is just beginning to question what he has always perceived as normal. It might take a long talent search to find a child actor gifted enough to portray Jack, but happily there’s already a screenwriter—may no one bowdlerize Donoghue’s work.