Hello Everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers again with our pal Larry Michie, our Books 2 Movies maven, who so deftly tracks the journeys of subjects literary to subjects film.
This time, Larry takes a look at an old but still good movie that boasts of a still creme de la creme of performance by British actress Maggie Smith.
Larry notes: Muriel Spark’s “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” is revered as a classic novel, and the 1969 motion picture, directed by Ronald Neame, is equally loved. (Neame, by the way, also directed the Book 2 Movie of Joyce Cary’s “The Horse’s Mouth,” very much a classic itself.)
Maggie Smith, who was brilliant as Miss Brodie, won the Academy Award as best actress. (She didn’t show up to accept the honor, a quirk that seems altogether appropriate for the title character herself.)
Other cast members, including the girls Miss Brodie taught, were excellent in their own right, and the headmistress of the school, who long sought to fire Miss Brodie and eventually succeeded, was played with haughty brio by Celia Johnson, who may be fondly remembered as the worried wife in “Staying On,” the novelistic coda to Paul Scott’s monumental work of genius, “The Raj Quartet.” (And who can forget Johnson’s moving performance opposite Trevor Howard in director David Lean’s 1945 romantic weeper “Brief Encounter,” which itself was adapted by Noel Coward from his one-act play, “Still Life.”)
Don’t take the novel and the movie of Miss Brodie as exactly equivalent, however. For one thing, the book was turned into a successful theatrical play before it became a movie. And, not unexpectedly, some aspects of the book were altered for the film. There still were two men — a music teacher and an artist — whose real and imagined affairs with Miss Brodie drew the attention of the girls she taught.
Eventually, the headmistress wins her long battle to dismiss the eccentric teacher of the girls she ritualistically called The crème de la crème. The novel, however, brilliantly hints and foreshadows in ways that the film can’t quite capture.
Miss Brodie teaches in Edinborough, Scotland, in the 1930s, and she espouses views that, while not at all uncommon in Great Britain at the time, prove to be misguided at best. She vacations in Italy, where she swoons over the artistic marvels we still regard with awe. Unfortunately, Miss Brodie also acquires a wild affection for Benito Mussolini — a point of view she strongly pitches to her young students.
What’s more, Miss Brodie subsequently takes a vacation in Germany, where she is awestruck by the wonderfullness of one of Mussolini’s friends. Guess who! Yikes. There were Black Shirts in Great Britain during that period, but Miss Brodie didn’t exactly chose her heroes with discretion.
A vivid departure from the novel is the motion picture’s depiction of the girl who betrayed Miss Brodie. The young woman named Sandy was hardly ever mentioned in the book without a reference to her “piggy eyes,” and she certainly was depicted as homely and something of a misfit. Eventually she became a nun. The movie version was altogether different. One of Miss Brodie’s young girls rebelled against her teacher. The girl is portrayed by the spectacularly lovely young Pamela Franklin, and one thing she doesn’t have is piggy eyes.
She models for the art teacher — which Miss Brodie encouraged — and the artist did not avoid enjoyment of her charms, despite his wife and many children. In the end, ignominiously dismissed from the job she loved, poor Miss Jean Brodie was past her prime.