‘The Children’s Hour’, Coming Out and My Affection For Martha

Contains Spoilers

In a time of what seems to be around one lesbian film release a month, (bless my little, queer heart) I wanted to draw people’s attention to The Children’s Hour (1961), an American drama based on a 1934 play of the same title by Lilian Hellman. I was first introduced to the film through The Celluloid Closet (1995), a documentary detailing the way LGBTQ+ characters have been represented across cinema, especially Hollywood, up to that point. The protagonists of the story, Martha and Karen, are played by Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn and personally, I couldn’t understand how a queer film starring both actresses had gone over my head. Opinion is divided over whether it counts as a queer film at all but either way, I immediately sought it out. Overall, I must agree with MacLaine’s comment that there would be a “outcry” if the film were released today. As The Celluloid Closet explains, The Children’s Hour comes from a time when the taboos of the Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as The Hays Code, were being “whittled away”. Although homosexuality was being talked about on screen, it was only as “something that nice people didn’t talk about”, which clearly positions it as something immoral. Yet I hope to shed some light on why I still have a fondness for the film and view it as an important staple in queer cinema.

Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine in The Children’s Hour

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