Screenshot: Gemma Arterton as Vita Sackville-West and Elizabeth Debicki as Virginia Woolf
Vita and Virginia depicts the lesbian love affair between aristocratic poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and feminist writer Virginia Woolf.
The women met in December 1922. They were both married, however Sackville-West had enjoyed many relationships with women. She was instantly drawn to the socially awkward Woolf, who struggled with mental health issues throughout her life.
A deep passion developed between the women, and they loved each other until Woolf's death in 1941.
Vita and Virginia is based on the 1992 play by Eileen Atkins, which uses the love letters the women wrote each other over the years to explore their relationship. The film covers the time from when the met, up until the publication of Orlando - the groundbreaking novel about an aristocrat who changes from male to female and lives for over 400 years, which Woolf based on her lover.
Sackville-West's son Nigel Nicholson described Orlando as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature..."
Director Chanya Button told the Evening Standard that the first sexual encounter between the experienced Sackville-West and Woolf is a pivotal moment in the film.
“Our interpretation of the character is that she hadn’t felt that pure, uncomplicated, very physical, totally non-intellectualised pleasure before and that was a profound moment of growth for her," Button said.
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West together in the 1930s, after their relationship had ended
The younger Sackville-West was known to enjoy dalliances with other women throughout her relationship with Woolf and traveled often with her husband. Issues of jealousy and betrayal caused problems for the couple, and the relationship ended somewhere around 1928 - 1929.
“These are two women who bent the institution of marriage to their will,” Button told the Evening Standard. "They didn’t burn the house down — they made it work for them. They’re rebellious and revolutionary and very, very clever. The story is interesting about how we can evolve institutions that we have previously found oppressive."
“That’s why I made the film — and why I’m excited for it to be at Flare (London LGBT Film Festival) — because this kind of openness and fluidity is something we’re still having conversations about now.”
Vita and Virginia debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September last year. It stars Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager, Widows) as Woolf and English actress Gemma Arterton as Sackville-West. Isabella Rossellini, Rupert Penry-Jones, Peter Ferdinando, and Emerald Fennell co-star.
Vita and Virginia will be released on July 5.