The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (film)

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Original movie poster for the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.jpg
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
StarringMaggie Smith
Robert Stephens
Pamela Franklin
Gordon Jackson
Celia Johnson
CinematographyTed Moore
Edited byNorman Savage
Music byRod McKuen
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • 24 February 1969 (1969-02-24) (Royal Premiere (UK))
  • 2 March 1969 (1969-03-02) (US)
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. It received two nominations at the 42nd Academy Awards; Best Original Song for its theme song "Jean", with Smith winning Best Actress.


Jean Brodie is a teacher at Marcia Blaine School for Girls 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. Brodie devotes her time and energy to her four special 12-year-old junior school girls, called the Brodie Set: Sandy, Monica, Jenny, and Mary.

The Brodie Set often go to art museums, theatre, and have picnics on the school lawn, which rather upsets the school's austere headmistress, Emmeline Mackay, who dislikes it 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 is if she is assassinated.

Brodie catches the eye of music teacher/church choirmaster Gordon Lowther, with whom she and her girls spend a lot of time at his home in Cramond, a seaside village on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Brodie sometimes spends the night with Lowther, although she tries to conceal this from the girls. Lowther wants to get married, but Brodie drags her feet. She still has feelings for her married ex-lover, Teddy Lloyd, the school's art teacher, who steadily pursues her.

Other school staff, also 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, the Kerr sisters, who teach sewing; Miss McKenzie, the strict librarian; and Miss Gaunt, the headmistress's mouselike secretary. Miss Gaunt's brother, a church deacon, asks Lowther to resign as church organist and elder because of his relationship with Brodie.

As the years pass, Brodie is seen rising to her apex, then experiences a spectacular fall, orchestrated by one of the Brodie Set and playing into the desire of Miss Mackay – and other faculty – to see Brodie gone. During her downfall, she loses Lowther, who gets engaged to Miss Lockhart, a chemistry teacher and one of the few teachers who tended to be sympathetic towards Brodie.

As the Brodie Set grow older and become students in the Senior School, Brodie begins to cast her spell over a new group of junior students, particularly Clara. Sandy becomes slightly distant from Mary, Monica, and Jenny. 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, resentful of Brodie's constant praise of Jenny's beauty, who has an affair with Mr. Lloyd. Sandy ends the affair because of Mr. Lloyd's obsession with Brodie.

Mary, influenced by Brodie, sets out to join her brother, whom she believes to be fighting for Franco. Mary is killed when her train is attacked shortly after crossing the frontier. This event serves as the last straw for Sandy, who informs the school's board of governors of Brodie's efforts to impose her politics on her students, which finally leads to Brodie's termination.

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 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 walks out of the classroom, as Brodie screams "Assassin!"

Sandy, Monica, and Jenny finish at the school. Despite knowing full well that she had betrayed Brodie to Mackay, Sandy believes she was protecting future girls who would have been targets of Brodie, though perhaps, less commendably, she acted on personal resentment over Brodie's preference for Jenny and Teddy Lloyd's obsession with Brodie.

As Sandy leaves the school, her face streaked with tears, Brodie (in voiceover) states 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, the play and the film.

Allen created a successful play out of what may not have been an easy novel to adapt. However, some critics have questioned whether it 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, in the novel it was Joyce Emily who died in the Spanish Civil War (Mary later dies in a fire instead), 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 manoeuvre into having an affair with Mr Lloyd.

The novel made extensive use of flash forward. The play largely dropped this device, although it did include 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 favour of an entirely 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. Review aggregate website 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] On the Internet Movie Database as of January 2015 the film has a rating of 7.8 out of 10 based on 5,662 user votes.

Maggie Smith was singled out for her performance in the film. Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader said 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]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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

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.

External links[edit]