As a new student at an all-girls boarding school, Manuela has started to fall in love with her teacher, Fräulein von Bernburg. Manuela is played by Hertha Thiele, whose career, according to German film historians Heide Schlüpmann and Karola Gramman , was shaped by the fact that “her acting success may well have been based upon her image which met the homoerotic desires of both men and women, though perhaps more those of women.”
What’s even more astounding is that this tale of illicit first lesbian love was made in Germany during the Third Reich. It’s also an incredibly anti-fascist film made right under their noses.
Screenwriter Christa Winsloe based this movie on her life. Directly on her life, that is. Theile shared, “The whole of Mädchen in Uniform was set in the Empress Augusta boarding school, where Winsloe was educated. Actually there really was a Manuela, who remained lame all of her life after she threw herself down the stairs. She came to the premiere of the film. I saw her from a distance, and at the time Winsloe told me “The experience is one which I had to write from my heart.” Winsloe was a lesbian.”
The movie made its way around the world — Japan, the United States (where it was first banned, then released in a censored version after Eleanor Roosevelt championed it), England and France — before it was banned in Germany until a pro-Nazi ending was added. Finally, the film was just as seen as too decadent and banned again.
You can get this new release — as well as Victor, Victoria which we’ll get to tomorrow — from Kino Lorber. The blu ray comes compete with commentary by film historian Jenni Olson.