The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
Not my usual type of film, but I thought with Maggie Smith in the lead, it has to be good. My suspicions were right, in the lead role of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) she gives her first Oscar winning performance as the inspirational teacher of an all-girls high school, teaching them not just about English, but Love, art and beauty. It seems the extracurricular subjects consume her time. Seeing herself as a role model to her young girls who she can mould at the right age into great women of substance. Could she be a feminist at heart? that’s what I thought at first about the women who was always telling us she was in her prime. A role that can be seen to have either made Smith’s career or stereotyped it for her, strong-willed woman who never gives up in the face of adversity and never lost for words. Unless she is after Gordon Lowther (Gordon Jackson) or art teacher Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens) who will do anything to rekindle the summer of love they had once.
What seems to cover a year or maybe more we see the eventual fall from grace of Jean Brodie who wishes to impart on her students more than just the essential curriculum. The learnings of life, the more exciting parts that make it worth living. I feel she gets carried away, taking four young impressionable girls who are special to her. Going on school trips that enrich them in ways they never thought possible. With a woman who believes she is in her ‘prime’ an idea she clings too, and never describe. It could be seen as a thin veil to hide her ordinary family past, painting it as more. To be unreachable by those around her. She creates her own aura that girls look up to, wanting to be this woman who creates her own destiny.
Romantic notions that lead to her downfall. She forgets her own duty to her students, especially that to Mary McGregor (Jane Carr) an impressionable orphaned girl who soaks up all that she has to say, before leaving to Franco’s spain to be with her brother. A journey she should never have made in the first place. Set between WWI and WWII much is going on in the world which Brodie is ignorant of, not really paying attention to, instead romanticizing the world to a that of heroes and villains that are found in classic art.
Whilst the other three girls start to question their teacher as they become more aware of the adult world around them. None more-so than Sandy (Pamela Franklin) who become the lover and muse of the art teacher, something that Brodie wanted to happen for Jenny (Dianne Grayson) who is still too innocent to be aware of what may ahead for her. At such young and vulnerable ages the ideas that shouldn’t be so freely aired, which Brodie does so liberally, acting as if she has a duty to. Sandy grows the most of the girls over the course of the film, learning to think for herself and see beyond the words and search for the meaning.
Whilst Brodie has a fight to deal with from Headmistress Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) who at times appears to have a vendetta to oust the liberal teacher. Unaware of what she has taken on. A woman who uses her words to talk herself out of most situations with ease and cheek, something which is rarely seen. Two strong-willed women who wont give up easily. One with experience under her belt, whilst the other had the confidence of youth and blurred ideas.
A strong film with a rare near all female cast that shows what teaching can be, what you can learn and to find balance. Maggie Smith makes herself known to the world, with all the sixties colour in this period film that is drenched in Edwardian values which she is fighting. I cannot help but think of the male equivalent Dead Poet Society (1989) which took a boys school in the sixties with a radical teacher who brought to life the subject of English and a real passion for poetry. Fighting a stuffy education system that didn’t understand his teaching methods. It was a passion for the subject that was his downfall, giving real purpose to his students, a creative outlet. Whilst Brodie was ahead of her time in her thinking and her teaching, it was thrilling to see her fight every fight with grace, always perfectly turned out for the world.