The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (film)
|The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Ronald Neame|
|Produced by||James Cresson
|Written by||Jay Presson Allen|
|Based on||The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark|
|Music by||Rod McKuen|
|Editing by||Norman Savage|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||116 minutes|
|Box office||$3 million (rentals)|
The novel was turned into a play by Jay Presson Allen that opened in London in 1966 with Vanessa Redgrave and on Broadway in 1968, with Zoe Caldwell in the title role, a performance for which she won a Tony Award. This production was a moderate success, running for just less than a year, but it has often been staged by both professional and amateur companies since then.
Allen adapted her play into a film, which was directed by Ronald Neame. It is remembered for Maggie Smith's performance in the title role, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. There was also a notable performance from Pamela Franklin as Sandy, for which she won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress. It was entered in the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. Rod McKuen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song for "Jean", which became a huge hit for the singer Oliver in autumn 1969.
The film was released on DVD in the UK by Acorn Media in July 2010.
Jean Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1930s. Known for her tendency to romanticise fascist leaders like Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco, and believing herself to be in her prime of life, she devotes her time and energy to her four special girls, called the Brodie set: Sandy, Monica, Jenny and Mary McGregor. Mary, a new girl with a stutter who was an orphaned heiress, first had troubles with the other three, but they eventually became friends.
The set often go to art museums, theatre, concerts, have picnics on the school lawn, among other things, which rather upsets the school's austere headmistress, Emmeline Mackay, who dislikes the fact that the girls are cultured to the exclusion of hard knowledge, and the Brodie girls seem precocious for their age. She also seems to have a running grudge against Brodie, who has tenure. It was revealed that Brodie had been at Marcia Blaine for six years prior to Mackay being appointed headmistress.
Besides working with her girls, Jean catches the eye of music teacher/church choirmaster Gordon Lowther, whom she and her girls spend a lot of time with at his home in Cramond, a seaside village on the outskirts of Edinburgh. (She sometimes spends the night with Mr. Lowther, although she tries to conceal this from the girls.) Mr. Lowther wants them to get married, but Brodie drags her feet. She still has feelings for her married ex-lover, Teddy Lloyd, who is the art teacher in the senior section of the school.
Also working with Brodie (and all somewhat disapproving of her unorthodox teaching methods and her influence on the girls) are Miss Campbell, the physical education teacher; Miss Ellen and Miss Allison Kerr, two sisters who serve as the school's sewing teachers; Miss McKenzie, the strict librarian; and Miss Gaunt the headmistress's mouselike, non-talking secretary. Miss Gaunt's brother is a deacon at Mr. Lowther's church (kirk) who eventually asks for his resignation as organist and elder because of his relationship with Miss Brodie.
Between the years, Miss Brodie rises to her apex, and then spectacularly falls, given that Miss Mackay and most of the other teachers and staff at the very conservative school don't want her to continue teaching there. During her downfall, she loses Mr. Lowther, who gets engaged to Miss Lockhart, the chemistry teacher in the Senior School, and one of the few teachers at Marcia Blaine who tended to be more sympathetic towards Miss Brodie as a person and to her teaching style.
As the Brodie Set grow older and become students in the Senior School, Miss Brodie begins to cast her spell over a younger group of students, particularly a girl called Clara who reminds her of her favourite, Jenny. Mary, Monica and Jenny become closer friends, and Sandy becomes slightly distant from the set, although she is still part of it.
Miss Brodie tries to manoeuvre Jenny and Mr. Lloyd into having an affair, and Sandy into spying on them for her. However it is actually Sandy (who grows resentful of Miss Brodie's constant praise of Jenny's beauty) who has an affair with Mr. Lloyd. Sandy ends the affair because of Mr. Lloyd's overwhelming obsession with Miss Brodie.
Mary McGregor, influenced by Brodie, sets out to Spain to join her brother who she believes is fighting for Franco, but she is killed when her train is attacked shortly after crossing the frontier. This event serves as the last straw for Sandy, who although she got annoyed with Mary, did begin to care about her and counted her as a friend. This leads her to betray Miss Brodie to Miss Mackay and the school's board of governors, who finally decide to have Miss Brodie's job terminated and another teacher to take over her classes.
At the end, Sandy confronts Miss Brodie on her crimes, most especially her manipulation of Mary; her part in her senseless death (for which she is unapologetic); and the harmful influence she exerted on other girls; and adds that Mary's brother is actually fighting for the Spanish Republicans. Miss Brodie, on her part, makes some harsh but astute comments about Sandy's character, particularly her ability to coldly judge and destroy others. Sandy retorts that Brodie professed to be an admirer of conquerors and then finally walks out of her classroom, with a frantic Miss Brodie following her to the landing screaming "Assassin!!" at Sandy. Sandy, however, doesn't look back.
After the confrontation, Sandy, Monica, and Jenny graduate along with the other girls. Despite knowing full well that she had betrayed Brodie to Mackay and the board of governors, Sandy did so out of concern for any other girl who could have been a target of Miss Brodie and her fanatical ways, and, perhaps too, resentment over Miss Brodie's preference for Jenny and Teddy Lloyd's unending obsession with Miss Brodie.
At the end of the film as Sandy leaves the school for the last time, her face streaked with angry and bitter tears, Miss Brodie (in voiceover) states her motto: "Little girls, I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the crème de la crème. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life."
- Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie (*Winner Academy Award)
- Robert Stephens as Teddy Lloyd
- Pamela Franklin as Sandy
- Gordon Jackson as Gordon Lowther
- Celia Johnson as Miss Mackay
- Diane Grayson as Jenny
- Jane Carr as Mary McGregor
- Shirley Steedman as Monica McLaren
- Lavinia Lang as Emily Carstairs
- Antoinette Biggerstaff as Helen McPhee
- Margo Cunningham as Miss Campbell
- Isla Cameron as Miss McKenzie
- Rona Anderson as Miss Lockhart
- Ann Way as Miss Gaunt
- Molly Weir as Miss Allison Kerr
- Helena Gloag as Miss Ellen Kerr
- Heather Seymour as Clara
There were two married couples in the cast: Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, and Gordon Jackson and Rona Anderson.
Relationship to novel and play
There is a complex relationship between the novel, the play and the film.
Although Allen did manage to create a successful play out of what may not have been the easiest of novels to adapt, some have questioned whether it is a particularly faithful adaptation. It turned an experimental work into a realistic one, and removed some theological issues, turning it into a story of failed love. There is also nothing like the final confrontation between Miss Brodie and Sandy in the novel.
The play reduced the number of girls in the Brodie Set from six to four (and discarded another girl not in the set) and some of them are composites of girls in the novel. Mary is a composite of the original Mary and Joyce Emily; although mainly based on the original Mary, in the novel it was Joyce Emily who died in the Spanish Civil War, and rather more is made of this incident in the play than the novel. Jenny is a composite of the original Jenny and Rose; in spite of her name she has more in common with Rose, since in the novel it was she who Miss Brodie tried to manoeuvre into having an affair with Mr Lloyd.
The novel made extensive use of flash forward. The play largely abandoned this, although it did include a few scenes showing Sandy as a nun in later life. The film also made a few changes from the play, the biggest being that it discarded these scenes and was entirely linear narrative.
Upon its initial release, the film received positive feedback from critics. review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of 16 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7 out of 10.
Maggie Smith was singled out for her performance in the film. Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader said that Smith is "in one of those technically stunning, emotionally distant performances that the British are so damn good at."
1978 television version
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was adapted by Scottish Television into a seven episode television serial in 1978 that featured Geraldine McEwan in the lead role. Rather than recapitulate the plot of the novel, the series imagined episodes in the lives of the characters in the novel, such as conflict between Jean Brodie and the father of an Italian refugee student, who fled Mussolini's Italy because the father was persecuted as a Communist.
- Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
- Solomon p 231. See also "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15. Please note these figures are rentals, not total gross.
- "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
- Stannard, Martin (2010). Muriel Spark: The Biography. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393051749.
- "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- Kehr, David. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the Internet Movie Database
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the TCM Movie Database