The Sexuality of Space


William Brown


Published on/by



Accompanying text

Drawing on over a dozen films, St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies demonstrates the way in which Magdalen College, Oxford, has repeatedly been used by filmmakers in a strikingly patterned way. Across nearly every film set or shot at Magdalen, the college’s front-facing tower has repeatedly been represented as a space associated with heterosexuality, coloniality and the regulation of time, while the college’s rear New Buildings and, more particularly, its deer park, have been depicted as one or a combination of female, postcolonial and in particular queer.

The aim of this essay-film, however, is not simply to demonstrate an esoteric pattern exclusive to the analysis of an equally exclusive place. Rather, it is to suggest that there is a ‘sexuality of space’ that both is expressed by and which expresses places that regularly we see on film.

That is, beyond the case study given here, St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies demonstrates a new way of looking at how particular locations are treated in cinema – while at the same time using the essay film form itself as a means of providing a ‘queer’ (back) entry both into film studies and, in this particular instance, into a space that is otherwise accessed only by a privileged few.

St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies draws inspiration from a combination of films like Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (Mark Rappaport, USA, 1992) and Les dites cariatides/The So-Called Caryatids (Agnès Varda, France, 1984).

It features footage from a variety of films, including Scholastic England (James A FitzPatrick, USA, 1948), Accident (Joseph Losey, UK, 1967), Purab aur Paschim (Manoj Kumar, India, 1970), Summoned by Bells (Jonathan Stedall, UK, 1976), Howards End (James Ivory, UK/Japan/USA, 1992), Shadowlands (Richard Attenborough, UK, 1993), Robinson in Space (Patrick Keiller, UK, 1997), Wilde (Brian Gilbert, UK/Germany/Japan, 1997), The Mystic Masseur (Ismail Merchant, UK/India/USA, 2001), Blue Blood (Stevan Riley, UK, 2006), The History Boys (Nicholas Hytner, UK, 2006), Brideshead Revisited (Julian Jarrold, UK/Italy/Morocco, 2008) and Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe (Charlie Brooker, UK, 2015).

The film was made with thanks to Rachel Dwyer, Christine Ferdinand, David Pattison, and Mr and Mrs 55, whose translation of ‘Koi Jab Tumhara Hriday Tod De’ is featured in the subtitles.