The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Dir: Ronald Neame
Star: Maggie Smith, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Gordon Jackson

This is a beautifully spikey picture, with a heroine who isn't really a heroine. Or is she? You can debate that one endlessly. For the titular character (Smith) is certainly a charismatic and strong-willed woman, devoted to her chosen vocation of teaching to the point almost of obsession, and dedicated to moulding her chosen ones (the "Brodie set") in a way of which the headmistress of the school may not necessarily approve. The emphasis on art and culture over the approved curriculum is a bit questionable; it's the fondness for and fascination with Fascist leaders like Mussolini and Franco that ends up being much worse of a problem. Especially, when one of the Brodie set, Sandy (Franklin), breaks ranks and decided both to bed the school's art teaches Teddy Lloyd (Stephens), who himself is obsessed with Miss Brodie, and to divulge the political indoctrination to her teacher's employers. It's clearly not going to end well for anyone, though the intervening 45 years now leave Lloyd's character coming across rather more as a predatory pedophile than, I suspect, the makers intended at the time! Ah, those wacky sixties...

Putting that aside, it's a film that absolutely requires a strong performance at its core, and Smith delivers without question - she won an Oscar for the role, and you can absolutely see why. "Like a velvet glove cast in iron," to borrow a line from Faster, Pussycat, and Miss Brodie is absolutely convinced of her righteousness, not giving a damn for what anyone else may think. But she's so charismatic and passionate about it that you find yourself being dragged along for the ride. Hey, maybe Il Duce wasn't such a bad guy after all, 'cos Miss Brodie said so! Certainly, Sandy's actions at the end come over as more villianous than you might initially expect, as she attempts to wreck the career of someone who - unlike Mr. Lloyd - does not seem to have done anything other than possess politically-incorrect views. It's interesting how the lens of time has changed this: it was a product of the sixties, looking back to the thirties, yet now perhaps tells us more about the era in which it was made, than the one it depicts.

[July 2015]

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