The Bisexual Review

The Bisexual

by Sophie Wilkinson |
Published on

Thank heavens that no network in America wanted writer/director Desiree Akhavan’s story of Leila, a thirty-something lesbian, breaking up with Sadie (Maxine Peake) and soon realising her latent desire for men. Because the UK is long overdue a new show about young women – queer or not. Set in the east end of London, it could be any inner-city populated by young creatives, and rightly skewers the cliquey culture of the lesbian, art and fashion worlds that exist there, which will appeal far beyond the capital.

The Bisexual

Far lighter than, say, Fleabag, but sharing its arch humour, the miniseries hones in on the difficulties of apparently betraying a group you’ve long felt part of. Along the way, sex scenes are realistically clumsy, a bit like those in Lena Dunham’s Girls – in which Akhavan briefly appears – and are there to tell a story. They’re not unsexy, they’re just told from a female gaze, or, as Akhavan has put it, “the gaze of someone who didn’t get laid in high school”.

Maxine Peake is exceptional as Leila's older ex.

The major difference between Akhavan and her New York contemporary, though, is that Akhavan is far more charitable to men, and reflects actual London from the off – a scene on a London bus is so real you can smell the sticky energy-drink-infused vomit layering the upper deck. If you don’t understand the niche lesbian in-jokes, e.g. “She’s a Dana trying to be a Shane”, plenty of excoriating cultural references are dropped in, such as Leila’s marvellous pronouncement on her new flatmate Gabe’s (Brian Gleeson) poncey gentrification of an African food market.

It’s not all about Leila, thankfully, because otherwise it’d simply

be a remake of Akhavan’s debut film, Appropriate Behaviour. Peake, as Leila’s older ex, is exceptional as she faces the reality of her biological clock while picking up the pieces of her broken heart. And Gabe, played by Brian Gleeson, might seem unnecessary at times, as the lumbering awkward straight guy Leila house-shares with, but that’s the point. You won’t find a more piercing and self-satirising delve into the diverse and nuanced lives of London’s liberal metropolitan elite.

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