5 May 2013

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 1969
  • Director: Ronald Neame
  • Based on book: by Muriel Spark
  • Cast: Maggie Smith, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Gordon Jackson, Celia Johnson, Diane Grayson, Jane Carr
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Maggie Smith – Harry Potter 1-8 of  course, A Room with a View, Gosford Park, Keeping Mum, David Copperfield, Tea with Mussolini, Richard III, Sister Act, Hotel Marigold
    • Robert Stephens –Romeo and Juliet (1968), Henry V (1989)
    • Gordon Jackson – Upstairs Downstairs
    • Celia Johnson – Brief Encounter
  • Why bought: Maggie Smith
  • Seen: First time: about a year ago. Now: February 10, 2013 with H and YW in our read-book-watch-movie trio

 What’s the point of this movie, really? How are we supposed to react to it?  It’s very disturbing actually.  Miss Jean Brodie, spinster teacher in an all girls’ school in Edinburgh in the 1930’s. Beautiful, a free spirit, romantic, lover of the arts, lover of two men, pedagogically progressive, inspiration to young girls. And contemptuous, rigid, snobbish, self-delusional, self-glorifying, manipulative. And a fascist. A staunch supporter of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco.
And finally the victim of betrayal by one of her students. Betrayal?  The headmistress had been trying to get rid of Miss Brodie for years for her teaching methods, her flamboyance and her love affairs.  She is now finally kicked out for her political views.
This doesn’t ring true. One can accept the fact that some fascists were wildly romantic, totally clueless about politics and completely self-contradictory. But another thing to consider is that a woman like Miss Jean Brodie, at least a woman with fascist leanings, would not have differed from the headmistress or other teachers of a conservative girls’ school of the 1930’s. Fascist tendencies would not be grounds for dismissal, they would almost be requirements for being given the job.
So the whole story doesn’t work.
But Maggie Smith is magnificent. She thoroughly deserves her Oscar for the role. She is compelling from her haughty flamboyant entrance to her tragic humiliating fall.
In fact, everybody is good.
But it still doesn’t work. However, since I could be missing the point, and because the movie (and the book) demands discussion –

3 * of 5 

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