Benedetta is a French biographical drama based on the true story of 17th-century nun Benedetta Carlini. She claimed to have religious visions and was involved in a forbidden lesbian affair with a fellow nun during her lifetime. It premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2021 and was nominated for a Palme d’Or. Religion, physical form and sexuality, gender standards, corruption, and provocation are all explored in this engaging film. If you enjoyed Benedetta and are looking for more female-led historical dramas, check out the following eight films.

1. The Secret Diaries Of Miss Anne Lister (TV Movie 2010)

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Director- James Kent

Anne Lister, a wealthy orphan in nineteenth-century Yorkshire. She lives with an aunt and uncle who are desperate for her to marry happily ignorant, that she is a homosexual. Anne keeps a cryptic diary of her thoughts and exploits. Mariana Belcombe feels deceived when her lover, affluent elderly Charles Lawton, marries for convenience. Despite Mariana’s visits, the relationship is doomed. She makes a move for naïve Miss Browne with the help of old flame Tib. But realises she’s barking up the wrong tree and diverts her attention by remodelling the family hall. Tib nearly reveals her secret when inebriated, and contemptuous mine-owner Christopher Rawson, whose marriage proposal she refuses, informs her that her sexuality is a topic of local talk.

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2. Vita & Virginia (2018)

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Director- Chanya Button

‘Vita and Virginia’ is a love story between aristocrat Vita Sackville-West (Elizabeth Debicki) and writer Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) (Gemma Arterton). Vita receives an invitation from Virginia, and their paths intersect in Bloomsbury in 1922. Their love transcends all societal barriers, Virginia’s mental health issues, and Vita’s irresponsibility, and neither of them can imagine life without the other.

3. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019)

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Director- Celine Sciamma

Marianne is hired to paint Hélose, a young woman who has recently left the convent, for her wedding portrait in 1760 France. Marianne arrives under the idea of companionship to observe Hélose during the day and surreptitiously paint her by firelight at night because she is a reluctant bride-to-be. As they experience Hélose’s first moments of freedom, attraction and intimacy blossom between them. Hélose’s portrait quickly becomes a collaborative expression of affection and a monument to their relationship.

4. The Girl King (2015)

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Director- Mika Kaurismaki

A mysterious young woman divided between reason and passion; between her woman’s body and being reared as a prince; between the old and modern worlds; and between the brilliance of her educated intellect and the conservative forces surrounding her. Kristina of Sweden was crowned Queen at the age of six, thrusting her into a maze of power and tradition, where an austere court of Lutheran males pressured her to marry and produce an heir to fulfil her destiny. Although the Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, urges her to pair with his son, Johan, she finds sanctuary and love with her lady-in-waiting, the lovely and exquisite countess Ebba Sparre. The Queen’s entourage quickly realises that Ebba is the key to managing her, but they underestimate Kristina’s bright mind and desire for independence.

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5. Carol (2015)

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Director- Todd Haynes

During the 1950s, Therese Belivet, a shopgirl with a photography hobby, worked at Frankenberg’s, a department store in Manhattan, where she met Carol Aird, a semi-divorced woman. Carol’s loveless relationship with her former husband, Harge Aird, led to an unexpected friendship between Therese and Carol. While Therese had to abandon her connection with her boyfriend, Richard, Carol now has to deal with a new problem: her own husband’s morality clause. This relationship is potentially unstable, and their ability to maintain it will be put to the test.

6. Madame Claude (2021)

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Director- Sylvie Verheyde

This Netflix-commissioned film, starring Karole Rocher as Madame Claude, covers all the important details of the madame’s fascinating existence as a hard-nosed businesswoman and government informant in the roaring 1960s. It also examines her relationship with new recruit and soon-to-be collaborator Sidonie, as well as how a series of events leads to their economic empire’s final demise. Exclusive brothels frequented by the wealthy and powerful – and the power and responsibility this bestows on their owners – is an age-old narrative.

7. Novitiate (2017)

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Director- Maggie Betts

Cathleen Harris, seven years old, lives in rural Tennessee with her mother, Nora, a factory worker who is non-religious but wants to show Cathleen a church and let her decide for herself. Chuck, Cathleen’s father, arrives home late and inebriated, arguing with his wife. Chuck finally departs. Nora makes a living by having one-night encounters with various men. When two nuns visit her house and offer her admission in a Catholic girls’ school, Cathleen seeks her own love and finds it in Catholicism.

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If Cathleen’s grades are good, the school will provide her free tuition and a full scholarship to whatever college she chooses. A young nun befriends Cathleen at school one day and tells her about her marriage to Christ. Cathleen decides to leave home and commit her life to God at the age of 17 in the year 1964, after running into another one of her mother’s pickups on her way home from school.

8. Elisa & Marcela (2019)

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Director- Isabel Coixet

On June 8, 1901, the first same-sex marriage in Spain after the Roman Imperial era took place. In A Corua, two ladies, Marcela Gracia Ibeas and Elisa Sanchez Loriga, attempted to marry (Galicia, Spain). 1885. They get together at their respective schools. What starts off as a tight friendship turns into a hidden sexual relationship. Marcela’s parents are suspicious and send her to live in another country for a few years. When she returns, her reunion with Elisa is beautiful, and the two vow to spend the rest of their lives together. They decide to make a strategy now that they are the target of societal pressure and gossip. Elisa will temporarily leave town in order to return as Mario and marry Marcela. But nothing about this forbidden love will be simple.

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