Film review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), directed by Ronald Neame
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is based on a stage play. Set in 1930s Scotland Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a free-spirited teacher in an all-girls school. She’s glamorous and has unconventional teaching methods – let’s say they’re more about showing slides from her latest Italian vacation (and talking about what a grand fellow that Mussolini chap seems to be) than actually teaching girls about history.
The art teacher, Mr Lloyd (Robert Stephens), is under her spell, as is another one of the teachers, Mr Lowther (Gordon Jackson), who wants to marry her. Brodie is more of a free bird kind of person, and while that is commonplace these days it sure wasn’t back then. Occasionally getting into trouble with the headmaster, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson), Miss Brodie still manages to cling on to her post at the school.
Her favourite students (Pamela Franklin as Sandy, Diane Grayson as Jenny, Shirley Steedman as Monica and Jane Carr as new girl Mary McGregor) are taken to art exhibitions and theatre plays and look up to her as if she’s this magnificent role model. Is Miss Brodie’s personal cult really all that great for young, impressionable girls, and is Miss Brodie really all she’s cracked up to be?
The reason for watching this film was because it stars a young Maggie Smith, and it’s supposed to be a very good film. It is a very good film. At the end of it, I wanted to give Maggie Smith a standing ovation, because she really can act the socks off anyone. (Not that it was ever in doubt, in fairness.) As I primarily know of her as an older lady – Professor McGonagall, Dowager Countess of Grantham, that sort of thing – to see her as a young woman is different.
I didn’t actually know Robert Stephens was in this film until I started watching it, which then made it even more interesting, seeing as how he’s the father of both her sons. While I’ve seen Chris Larkin in a few roles I’m much more familiar with Toby Stephens and wow, the resemblance is uncanny. I can see him so much in both of the parents!
The girls are of an indeterminate age, and I thought they were supposed to be about twelve when the film starts, but they must be older than that or the film is meant to span several years. No, they must be older than twelve considering some of the plot points, unless it’s really meant to be that squicky.
If you can get a hold of this film it’s well worth a watch. The performances are magnificent, and whatever you might have to say about Miss Brodie’s teaching techniques (or lack thereof), the story itself has stood the test of time really well.
5 out of 5 picnics.