The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Theatrical release poster, artwork by Ted CoConis
Directed byRonald Neame
Screenplay byJay Presson Allen
Based onThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
by Muriel Spark
Produced byJames Cresson
Robert Fryer
CinematographyTed Moore
Edited byNorman Savage
Music byRod McKuen
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 24 February 1969 (1969-02-24)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$2.76 million[1]
Box office$3 million (rentals)[2]

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a 1969 British drama film directed by Ronald Neame from a screenplay written by Jay Presson Allen, adapted from her own stage play, which was in turn based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Muriel Spark. The film stars Maggie Smith in the title role as an unrestrained teacher at a girls' school in Edinburgh. Celia Johnson, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin, and Gordon Jackson are featured in supporting roles.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie premiered at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or and was released in cinemas in the UK on 24 February 1969 and in the US on 2 March 1969. The film received positive reviews with major acclaim drawn towards Smith's performance, although it was a box office disappointment, grossing $3 million on a $2.76 million budget.

At the 42nd Academy Awards, Smith won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, and the film was also nominated for Best Original Song for its theme song "Jean".


Jean Brodie is a teacher at an all-girls school called Marcia Blaine in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930s. Brodie is known for her tendency to stray from the school's curriculum, to romanticize fascist leaders like Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco, and to believe herself to be in the prime of life - in particular, her sexual prime. Brodie devotes her energy and attention to girls she sees as special or mouldable, who are referred to as the "Brodie Set". At the film's outset, the Brodie Set is composed of four 12-year-old junior school girls: Sandy, Monica, Jenny, and Mary.

The Brodie Set often go to art museums, theatre, and have picnics on the school lawn, to the chagrin of the school's austere headmistress Emmaline Mackay, who dislikes that the girls are cultured to the exclusion of hard knowledge, and seem precocious for their age. She has a grudge against Brodie, who has tenure and was hired six years before Mackay became headmistress. Brodie boasts to her girls that the only way she will stop teaching at Marcia Blaine is if she is assassinated.

Brodie catches the eye of the school's music teacher and choirmaster Gordon Lowther, with whom she and the girls spend weekends at his luxurious estate in Cramond. Brodie sometimes spends the night with Lowther, although she tries to conceal this from the girls. Lowther wishes to marry Brodie, but she still has feelings for the school's art teacher Teddy Lloyd, an ex-lover of Brodie's who steadily pursues her.

As the Brodie Set grow older and progress closer to the Senior School, they frequent Teddy Lloyd's studio, where he paints Jenny's portrait. Sandy initially rebuffs a lecherous advance from Lloyd. However, when Brodie tries to manoeuvre Jenny and Lloyd into an affair, and Sandy into spying on them, it is Sandy, resentful of Brodie's constant praise of Jenny's beauty, who becomes Teddy's lover and muse. Sandy ends the affair because of Lloyd's continuing obsession with Brodie.

Mary, influenced by Brodie, leaves the school to join her brother, whom she believes to be fighting for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. She is killed shortly after crossing the frontier when the train she is on is attacked, which incites Sandy to inform the headmistress of Brodie's efforts to impose her politics on her students. The disclosure finally leads to Brodie's termination, her humiliation compounded by Mr. Lowther's engagement to another teacher.

Before Brodie's departure, Sandy confronts her about her manipulation of Mary, Mary's senseless death, and the harmful influence she exerted on other girls, adding that Mary's brother is actually fighting for the Spanish Republicans. Brodie responds with a series of 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 walks out of the classroom, Brodie runs after her and screams down the hallway, "Assassin!"

Sandy, Monica, and Jenny graduate and leave the school. As Sandy departs, her face streaked with tears, Brodie's voice is heard proclaiming her oft-repeated 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."


The cast included two pairs of married actors: Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, and Gordon Jackson and Rona Anderson. Julie Andrews was initially offered the role of Jean Brodie.[3]

Relationship to novel and play[edit]

There is a complex relationship between the novel, play, film and television series. Jay Presson Allen wrote the stage and screen plays, and was involved with the STV series.

The play, movie and TV series focus on Miss Brodie. But the novel focuses on Sister Helen of the Transfiguration. It opens with the former Sandy Stranger being interviewed about the book she has just published that has electrified the literary community. What were the influences in her life that enabled her to write such a great work on theology? Was it Calvin? Someone else? The novel then reviews Sandy/Sister Helena's life, as if it passes before her mind's eye in the time it takes to formulate an answer to the journalist's question. We finish in the present tense of Sister Helena's interview, as she identifies the key influence of her life by saying, "There was a Miss Jean Brodie - in her prime."

Allen created a successful play out of a novel that was challenging to adapt, first, because it is very short, but mainly because the novel is very introspective and internally-focused - making it excellent for the silent reader but difficult to externalise in production media like theatre, film and television. Vanessa Redgrave triumphed in the lead role in London, as did Zoe Caldwell in New York. Vincent Canby, reviewing the film in the New York Times, wrote "Jay Presson Allen...created a much better play than is generally recognized. Roles like that of Miss Jean Brodie don't often write themselves" (3 March 1969). However, some critics have questioned whether the play is a particularly faithful adaptation. They have suggested that it turned an experimental work into a realistic one and removed some theological issues, turning the final product into a story of failed love[4] (and possibly also failed fascist politics).

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, it was Joyce Emily in the novel who died in the Spanish Civil War (Mary later dies in a fire), and rather more is made of this incident in the play than in the novel. Jenny is a composite of the original Jenny and Rose; in spite of her name she has more in common with Rose who, in the novel, Miss Brodie tried to maneuver into having an affair with Mr Lloyd.

The novel made extensive use of flash forward. The play largely dropped this device, but it includes a few scenes showing Sandy as a nun in later life. The film, which made a few changes from the play, discarded these scenes in favor of a linear narrative.


Box office[edit]

According to Fox records the film required $5,400,000 in rentals to break even and by 11 December 1970 had made $6,650,000.[5] In September 1970 the studio reported it had made a profit of $831,000 on the film.[6]

Critical response[edit]

Upon its initial release, the film received positive feedback from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 84% of 19 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.15 out of 10.[7]

Maggie Smith was singled out for her performance in the film. Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader wrote that Smith gives "one of those technically stunning, emotionally distant performances that the British are so damn good at."[8] Greg Ferrara wrote that the film "is one of the best British films of the decade. It is as captivating today as it was upon its release and its two central performances by Maggie Smith and Pamela Franklin are both stirring and mesmerizing. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is the crème de la crème."[9]


Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actress Maggie Smith Won [10]
Best Song – Original for the Picture "Jean"
Music and Lyrics by Rod McKuen
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Maggie Smith Won [11]
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Celia Johnson Won
Pamela Franklin Nominated
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Ronald Neame Nominated [12]
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [13]
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Maggie Smith Nominated
Best Original Song – Motion Picture "Jean"
Music and Lyrics by Rod McKuen
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 7th Place [14]
Best Supporting Actress Pamela Franklin Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Maggie Smith 3rd Place [15]
Best Supporting Actress Celia Johnson 3rd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Maggie Smith Runner-up [16]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama – Adapted from Another Medium Jay Presson Allen Nominated [17]

1978 television version[edit]

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was adapted by Scottish Television into a seven episode television serial for ITV 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, 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 journalist who objected to fascism. It consisted of seven episodes of 50 minutes. It was released on DVD in Region 1 and 2.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Solomon p 231. See also "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970, pg 15.
  3. ^ "All About Julie | TheaterMania".
  4. ^ Stannard, Martin (2010). Muriel Spark: The Biography. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393051742.
  5. ^ Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 328. ISBN 9780818404856.
  6. ^ Silverman p 259
  7. ^ "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  8. ^ Kehr, David. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  9. ^ Ferrara, Greg. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Film Article". Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  10. ^ "The 42nd Academy Awards (1970) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  11. ^ "BAFTA Awards (1970)". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  12. ^ "Official Selection 1969: All the Selection". Archived from the original on 26 December 2013.
  13. ^ "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  14. ^ "1969 Archives". National Board of Review. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  15. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. 19 December 2009. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  16. ^ "1969 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  17. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2010.

External links[edit]