Screening and Discussion, 20th of March, 5-7pm, Jarman 6

All are very welcome to attend the next film screening in our Gothic season. We will be showing Alien (1979, Ridley Scott, 117 minutes).

Scott’s film was the first in the highly successful Alien franchise. It introduces the audience to the tough and resourceful heroine, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and, more scarily, to the concept of face huggers.  Weaver appeared in all 3 sequels (1986, 1992 and 1997), continuing to take on not just terrifying alien life forms, but the sinister ‘corporation’. The fact the series has also prompted 2 prequels (2012 and forthcoming in 2017) further comments on its relevance to current society.




Summary of Discussion on Affinity

Tamar has very kindly provided the following notes on our discussion of Sarah Waters’ novel Affinity.


Warning: spoilers!

The group had a lively discussion about Sarah Waters’ 1999 novel, Affinity. Paradoxically, we began by discussing the ending, and our reactions to it. While some of us declared we had never believed in the possibility of magic, that it might actually exist within the world of the novel, others had, and were more likely to empathise with the heroine, Margaret. The sceptics found that they were somewhat detached from her, prevented from fully engaging with the character because of her gullibility over this point.

It was noted that the particular world Waters evoked Margaret inhabiting – brilliantly, we agreed – was stifling in its privilege. It was a closed world, and she was unwittingly yet inevitably forced into her position of ignorance and naivety because of this. The narrowness of her horizons accounted for her belief in, her desire for, the possibility of magic being real. We felt that though the “magic” was achieved through cynical manipulation, perhaps having a working class character who managed to be in charge of events, her own and others’ destinies, would seem like sorcery within the novel’s world. Throughout, Ruth played her class-based invisibility to her own advantage, using it to manipulate the people who literally could not see her possessing subjectivity.

We then pondered whether the novel was Gothic? There was more agreement on this, with group members unanimous in seeing Affinity fitting within the Gothic genre. It possessed many of the usual tropes, characters and narrative patterns. It was easy to read Millbank, the prison as a very Gothic building, fitting with the customary locus of the Old Dark House of books and films. As Joanna Russ lays out in her template of the 70s paperback Gothics, the cast and setting of these are permanent, fixed:

            To a large, lonely, usually brooding House (always named) comes a

             Heroine who is young, orphaned, unloved and lonely. She is shy

and inexperienced…. (Russ, 1973:667)

We also noted that the prison as described seemed alive, organic – wet, cold, animate – which reminded us of the infested space ships in Alien and Aliens, two further films we would claim as inspired by the Gothic.

Affinity also placed the Gothic’s usual significance on keys – though put to an ingenious use, multiplying the usual locked door via all the cells in the prison – and a dead parent, here the father, rather than the original Gothic’s more usual mourned mother. The novel also perpetuated the Gothic’s habitual play with doubles, as Margaret in the house was paired with Selina in prison, and, eventually, with Ruth, as the latter emerged as Selina’s true beloved, her real “affinity”.

We did wonder if the novel could be described as participating fully in the Gothic genre when its seemed that the phallic observation tower at the centre of Millbank was the only overt symbol of a powerful patriarchy operating in Affinity. Indeed, while as usual in the genre all women were victims in its world, yet there was no dominant husband or father figure; although Margaret’s brother did control her money, this seemed to be his only power over her or other women in the family. Unusually for the genre, the men characters were peripheral, non-powerful, non-threatening. Here the heroine’s unkind and stifling mother replaced the evil husband of the 18th Gothics. We wondered if we could see the novel’s world still being subject to patriarchal rule if there were no dominant men in it, but concluded that, within Affinity, masculine power was so taken for granted that it did not need actual men to impose it: the women characters had internalised its dominion.

We concluded our enjoyable debate by returning to the significance of the novel’s treatment of magic. It was wondered whether the reader herself were betrayed, along with Margaret, if she wanted a happy ending for the heroine and the woman she loved, if she wanted the magic to be real. We did not reach a conclusion about this or whether this might be a flaw in the novel, or a device to makes the reader feel the novel’s actions – perhaps, its tragedy – very acutely. Although we ended without tying down an answer, we all enjoyed reading and discussing Affinity, whatever our final conclusions.

Thanks for the great summary, Tamar!

As ever, do log in to comment, or email me on to add your thoughts.

Alien (1979) Showing at the Gulbenkian Cinema on the 24th of Feb

Posted by Sarah

The fourth film in the Gulbenkian Cinema’s Gothic Season – Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) – screens on Monday 24th of February at 9.15 pm. It will be introduced by Melodrama Research Group member Frances Kamm.


The Gulbenkian Cinema’s description of the film:

Ridley Scott | US | 1979 | 113mins | Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, John  Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” Ridley Scott’s (Bladerunner)  1979 modern classic stars a never-better Sigourney Weaver (Gorillas in the Mist) as Ripley, one of  several scientists on board the spaceship Nostromo, on the return leg of a  routine mission when they detect a mysterious transmission from a nearby  planet. Investigating the source, they find the remains of an alien creature  and crew member Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by the creature in one of its  eggs. Back on board, he has seemingly recovered when an uninvited guest  arrives, in gloriously gory fashion, in one of sci-fi’s most memorable  sequences.

The undisputed best of the Alien films, with a cerebral slant  alongside the thrills and gore, and an iconic feminist heroine in Weaver’s  preternaturally cool, tough Ripley, it’s a shocking, seamless ride.

“It  remains a benchmark of extra-terrestrial horror, and gave us a bona fide A-list  star in the shape of Sigourney Weaver”

“One  of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made” Jamie Russell, BBC

For more information and to book your ticket please go to:


Gothic Season of Films at the Gulbenkian Cinema Jan-March 2014

Posted by Sarah


Exciting news! From January to March 2014 the Gulbenkian will be screening a season of Gothic films. Dates and films include:

26th of Jan  Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

1st of Feb Dial M For Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

9th of Feb Gaslight (Thorold Dickinson, 1940)

24th of Feb Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)

4th of March The Orphanage (J.A. Bayona, 2007) (and panel discussion)

22nd of March Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)

Introductions to some of the films will be provided by members of the group with Tamar Jeffers McDonald also taking part in a panel discussion on  the 4th of March.

More details will be posted here nearer the time.