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The Midwife’s Tale

Here's a probable first:"The Midwife's Tale" is a pro-choice medieval lesbian fairy tale aimed at (presumably nontraditional) family audiences. Pleasant if somewhat static, this modestly produced effort faces a tough challenge outside gay fests; its themes are rather sophisticated and talk-driven for juve viewers, while addressed in terms too mild and simplistic for most adults.

With:
Lady Eleanor ... Stacey Havener Gwenyth ... Gayle Cohen Emma ... Carla Milford Lord William ... Anthony Abate Father Sumnor ... Ben Prager Sir Giles ... Mitchell Anderson Morgan ... Antonia Kitto Physician ... Delbert Spain

Here’s a probable first:”The Midwife’s Tale” is a pro-choice medieval lesbian fairy tale aimed at (presumably nontraditional) family audiences. Pleasant if somewhat static, this modestly produced effort faces a tough challenge outside gay fests; its themes are rather sophisticated and talk-driven for juve viewers, while addressed in terms too mild and simplistic for most adults.

Framing device is a modern-day little girl being told a bedtime story by one of her two life-companion mommies. Lady Eleanor (Stacey Havener) is a headstrong young noblewoman who’d rather be out riding and cavorting in nature. But she’s acquiesced to her late father’s wishes, becoming “lady of the castle” in wedlock to the patient if slightly exasperated Lord William (Anthony Abate). When Eleanor becomes pregnant, she fears — due to her own mother’s traumatic example — that both she and infant will die in birth throes.

She tries to engage the services of a local midwife for a secret abortion. But that woman has already been condemned to death by local clergy as a suspected “sorceress.” A younger midwife, Gwenyth (Gayle Cohen), appears instead , and romantic sparks fly between the two women. But Eleanor’s husband buckles to his Inquisition-minded priest’s pressure, arresting Gwenyth while keeping Eleanor a virtual prisoner for the length of her pregnancy. Nevertheless, she arranges an escape for them both, ensuring a same-sex happily-ever-after.

Budgetary limits are evident in the rote period costumes and dependency on close-ups (to minimize impact of plain “castle” interiors). On the plus side, there are some witty bits of genre subversion, as when Eleanor’s sleep-potion scheme at a banquet first results in surprising (but mildly depicted) “secret pleasures” all along the gender-pref scale. Pic makes expected agenda points — against tacitly anti-female “Christian” witch-hunting and authoritarian “medical” treatments (including bleeding), in favor of Sapphic love, female independence and herbalism — without too heavy a hand.

Still, most of these messages will be over the heads of younger viewers, who might be upset by brief torture and execution episodes. Story is simply too yackety at times to hold interest, though gauzy lensing lends an apt storybook feel, abetted by Celtic-tinged score. Perfs are OK, other tech aspects competent if undistinguished.

The Midwife's Tale

Production: A Heresy Pictures presentation. Produced, directed, written by Megan Siler.

Crew: Camera (color, 16 mm), Adam Teichman; editors, Celeste Tubman, Siler; music, John O'Kennedy; production design, Nancy Noblett; costumes, Korina Fitzgerald, Alex Yaeger; sound, Barry Massoni. Reviewed Oct. 4, 1995, at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco. (In Film Arts Festival.) Running time: 75 MIN.

With: Lady Eleanor ... Stacey Havener Gwenyth ... Gayle Cohen Emma ... Carla Milford Lord William ... Anthony Abate Father Sumnor ... Ben Prager Sir Giles ... Mitchell Anderson Morgan ... Antonia Kitto Physician ... Delbert Spain

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