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Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman

  • Alumni

Film-maker and gay rights campaigner


Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman (1942-1994) (English & Art, 1963) was a filmmaker and gay rights campaigner.

Derek had some success as a painter and stage designer before getting his break in film as production designer on The Devils, directed by Ken Russell. He is known for his avant-garde filmmaking, which reflected his activism and sexuality. His first feature film Sebastiane, made in 1976, was one of the first British films to feature positive images of gay sexuality and featured dialogue entirely in Latin.

Derek’s best known works include the punk classic JubileeCaravaggio, in which he gave Tilda Swinton her first ever film role; an unconventional adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest; The Last of England, a passionate and poetic response to Thatcherite Britain; and War Requiem, which saw Sir Laurence Olivier come out of retirement for his final role.

A pioneer of the music video, Derek produced films for a number of major acts including Marianne Faithfull, The Pet Shop Boys and The Smiths.

Derek was an outspoken campaigner for gay rights and became as well known for his activism as he was for his filmmaking. Diagnosed HIV positive in December 1986, he was one of the first UK public figures to speak openly about the condition. He was highly critical of the slow response to the Aids crisis and of the ‘Section 28’ legislation that banned local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’. Derek died of Aids-related illness in 1994, aged just 52.

Did you know? A keen gardener, Derek is also remembered for his shingle cottage-garden in the shadow of Dungeness power station in Kent.