Derek Jarman's 'Queer' sketchbook


This richly varied sketchbook was made by Derek Jarman (1942‒1994), the film-maker, artist and gay rights campaigner. It records the creative process of making Edward II (1991) ‒ Jarman’s film inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play about the King’s love for his male favourites.

The medieval and the modern: Jarman’s queer Edward II

Jarman wryly explained ‘How to make a film of a gay love affair and get it commissioned. Find a dusty old play and violate it’. He felt that Marlowe ‘outs the past’, and he asked ‘why don’t we out the present?’[1]

Both the film and the sketchbook show the powerful interaction between the past and the present; the personal and the political; reality, art and fiction. There are medieval vaults and dungeons, but Edward’s army is played by extras from an OutRage! gay rights protest. Jarman asks us to make connections between the homophobia of history and late 20th-century Britain.

The film uses much of Marlowe’s language, but radically alters the end to suggest that queer love can outlast hatred. Edward (played by Stephen Waddington) dreams he’s impaled with a poker, as he is in Marlowe’s drama. But in Jarman’s version, Edward wakes up and is kissed by his jailer (played by Jarman’s partner, Keith Collins). The film ends with Edward III (Jody Graber) dancing in lipstick and heels, on a cage containing his mother Isabella (Tilda Swinton) and her lover Mortimer (Nigel Terry).

How did Jarman make the sketchbook?

Jarman converted an expensive Italian photo album into a dynamic scrapbook, annotated filming script and notebook. He painted over the leather cover in a wash of gold and added a luminous sticker from an OutRage! campaign, saying ‘It’s cool to be queer’. The same stickers were used by film extras to deface Cliff Richard’s white Rolls-Royce, while he rehearsed in the next-door studio. Jarman pasted tabloid articles about the story into the sketchbook, noting that Cliff was ‘looking like an old conker’.

What does the sketchbook contain?

Jarman’s personal experiences are reflected, poignantly and playfully, in these pages. In 1986, he met Keith Collins and was diagnosed as HIV positive, and he moved to Prospect Cottage in Dungeness the following year. The sketchbook includes items such as a snare left by a hunter in Prospect Cottage garden, a business card for Derek from Keith, a ticket for a Celtic v. Rangers football match and a valentine’s card.

Jarman became passionately involved in resisting Clause 28, the section of the 1988 Local Government Act that prohibited the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. This sketchbook contains a letter from Bow Street Police releasing Jarman after he was arrested for taking part in an OutRage! protest. Some notes also reveal that, at times, Jarman was ‘too ill to film’ because of AIDS-related infections.

There are story-boards and sketches for scenes, produced by Christopher Hobbs and annotated by Jarman. You can also see Jarman’s key changes and cuts to Marlowe’s play. Most strikingly, Jarman has altered Isabella’s line, ‘Is not that strange’, replacing the word ‘strange’ with ‘Queer’.

Jarman keeps souvenirs from the film set ‒ a letter on House of Commons paper demanding Gaveston’s banishment and signed by the cast members; photos of himself and the actors; the invitation to the cast party; and a piece of the metal foil used by cameramen to mask the lights. The sketchbook is an ever-shifting place for planning and inspiration, and a fascinating reflection on the making of the film.

[1] The epigraph to Derek Jarman’s Queer Edward II (British Film Institute,1991).

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Derek Jarman's 'Queer' sketchbook
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Derek Jarman
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© Courtesy of Keith Collins

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