"Kick[ing] Against the System: Queer(y)ing Masculinity, Stardom and 'Welshness' in the Films of Richard Burton"

Griffiths, Robin M (2016) "Kick[ing] Against the System: Queer(y)ing Masculinity, Stardom and 'Welshness' in the Films of Richard Burton". In: 'Surface and Substance: Reflections on the Male Star Symposium', 28th-29th May 2016, University of St. Andrews. (Unpublished)

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There has long been an enduring perception in popular discourse of an immutable incongruence between ‘Welsh-ness’ and homosexuality that is due in part to persistent stereotypes of Wales as a provincial, backwards-looking nation wherein “men are men – and the sheep are worried”. It is this hetero-hegemonic form of essentialist masculinity that has similarly dominated images of Welsh male identity in Cinema that can, in many respects, be attributed to the representational convergence that took place in the latter half of the twentieth century between national mythos and the “diabolical” star personas of such iconic Welsh actors as legendary Hollywood “hellraiser” Richard Burton. However, the ‘shocking’ revelation by controversial biographer Ellis Amburn that Burton was not, as historically proclaimed, "the most heterosexual man most people had ever encountered”, but in fact secretly gay (BBC News, 10th April 2000), for many merely validated the rumours that have persistently surrounded Burton following his earlier revelation in a 1975 interview that he “was a homosexual once, but not for long”. And so, in retrospect, the internal masculine crisis that haunts the brooding, excessive and self-loathing Welsh machismo permeating his performances (both textually and extra-textually) in such queerly inflected films as 'Look Back in Anger' (1958) and 'Equus' (1977), or the suggestive, conflicted uneasiness of his roles in such problematic “sad gay stories” as 'Staircase' (1969) and 'Villain' (1971), in particular, lend themselves quite readily to the subversive re-imaginings of the contemporary queer screen theorist. This paper will, therefore, investigate the importance of these films (and the ‘queer legacy’ of Burton’s life and work more broadly), not only in terms of their power to provoke and disrupt screen configurations of hetero-normative male identity, but more importantly, to determine how a “quintessentially Welsh” re-framing of these tensions between nationality, stardom and sexual identity/crisis proffer some productive new avenues for further research towards the establishment of a queer historiography of Welsh (-ness in) cinema.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: A revised version of this paper presented at NORTH AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE STUDY OF WELSH CULTURE AND HISTORY BIENNIAL CONFERENCE NAASWCH 2016,Harvard University July 20-22
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Creative Practice and Theory
Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Depositing User: Robin Griffiths
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2016 08:56
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2023 20:10
URI: https://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/3595

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