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"Hannah Free," starring Sharon Gless, Featured at Philadelphia QFest
photo courtesy of QFest
Sharon Gless & Maureen Gallagher in 'Hannah Free'

The canon of lesbian literature holds many stories of thwarted love, tragic love, romantic love, missed opportunities and serendipity in connections. Wendy Jo Carlton's "Hannah Free" (USA 2009, 90 minutes), after Claudia Allen's award-winning play of the same name, is all of these.

We meet Hannah (Sharon Gless) when she is in a nursing home. She's elderly and cannot walk, though she's got some control over her legs. Very shortly we learn the real tragedy: that her lifelong love, Rachel (Maureen Gallagher), is in a coma, following a stroke, and is on life support in a different part of the facility. Rachel's daughter, Marge (Taylor Miller), does not want her mother's final days to be disturbed by Hannah, who came in and out of Rachel's life, ever since they were small girls growing up together. Hannah led a life of Odyssey, with Rachel playing Penelope to Hannah's wayward Ulysses. Their love was their guiding star through everything they did together, and Rachel must suffer the ultimate indignity while waiting for her date with Death.

When mysterious Greta (Jacqui Jackson) appears, ostensibly on a school assignment, Hannah senses a shift in the currents swirling around her. Hannah has conversations with Rachel Prime (Ann Hagemann), my name for the adult Rachel. While Hannah has aged, in her eyes her lover is always Rachel in her mature prime. Lush, lithe and with kisses that melt her, Rachel Prime can still make tart observations, especially while Hannah is assessing the winsome stranger, whom she will learn is Rachel's great-granddaughter.

The narrative sways and turns like a river, as we see Hannah Prime (Kelli Strickland) as a WAC, in Alaska, leaving Rachel sometimes on a whim, sometimes to join the effort for World War II. Hannah always returns, and Rachel always remains.

We've come to expect great things from Sharon Gless. For those of us who grew up crushed out first on Kate Jackson as Sabrina, then on Gless as Cagney, it's always been wishful thinking that Gless might be one of us. Gless is a consummate actor and very believable as a lifelong lesbian. Love scenes with Rachel and Hannah Prime and Rachel and Hannah as mature older woman are beautiful in depicting how a love can age like fine wine. You will be saving a place for this film in your library when it is released on DVD. See this movie on the big screen-in its East Coast premiere screenings thanks to QFest (www.phillycinema.org), on July 19 at 4:45 p.m. at the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, or 20 at 5 p.m. at the Ritz East, Theater Two, 125 South Second Street-and believe in love.

QFest will present Sharon Gless with its Gay Icon Award at the initial showing.

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