Tuesday, 20 January 2015

BAD GIRLS CLUB: MAGGIE SMITH IN “THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE” (1969)

 




This British film, based on the work by novelist Muriel Spark, has always been a favorite of mine. I could never pass up the chance of seeing it every time it aired on the small screen, which was every year on the dot. It was when VCRs or DVDs were things of the future.  I know it’s hard for some of you to imagine but life did exist without those electrical apparels.  I was around 10 when the film first caught my eye.  I was probably with my mom who had a thing for old movies as well.  She would sit with me in the den, all snuggled up in her favorite chair with a bowl of candies and a pack of cigarettes by her side, and not say a word until the movie was done.  Of course my stupid older brother of two years would always come in and ruin everything by yapping and yapping.  But my mom would shush him on the spot, and for some reasons it always made me happy.  Call it sibling rivalry but at that exact moment I deeply felt that we were a team my mother and I, that no one—including my brother—could enter our little fortress.  Too bad it didn’t last…  But on to THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE. 

In it the fabulous Maggie Smith plays the title role, a sophisticated, headstrong if overly romantic teacher who prides herself in developing the minds of her all-girl students at this uppity private school during the 1930s. Walking to the beat of her own drum, she easily ditches school curriculums in favor of her personal life through arts and travels while zeroing in on four young promising students whom she nicknames her Brodie Girls. Two of them eventually take center stage, one (Pamela Franklin) becoming the mistress of the married with children art teacher who still has the hots for old flame Brodie; the other (Jane Carr) idealizing Brodie to the point of being lured by her into fighting for the Spanish Civil War and getting killed in a train on her way there.  Of course, there is a lot more going on before we even get to that, but witnessing this energetic foursome growing up from innocent school girls to sophisticated young women was to this budding ten year old gay boy the highlight of the film.   


As I was watching it the other day, it suddenly dawned on me just how much the film reminds me of the 1984 miniseries LACE which is also based on a novel (by Shirley Conran). You know, silly school girls talking about boys, marriage and sex… There’s even the same breakfast bit in the school dining room/auditorium, with the belting of the school song before the principal delivers a speech… Not that THE PRIME OF MISS BRODIE is anything like LACE.  I mean, this is serious drama.  But still it makes me wonder if the miniseries did try to pay some sort of homage to the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, given that the movie was already a classic, having earned Maggie Smith her first Oscar as best actress in a leading role. 


Why include Smith’s character into the sleazy world of the bad girls club then? Simple, because underneath Brodie’s snotty exterior exists a wild cat who isn’t afraid of stirring the pot, like sending an innocent girl to her death (“Assassin!”). In the TV hit ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, she would be the leader of the pack, the one the inmates avoid at all cost.  She would cut a bitch just like that, while reciting poetry and banging the prison guard. Yes, Miss Jean Brodie is one bad ass chick. Too bad they never made a sequel to the film. You know, Miss Brodie, past her prime, becoming a nun and running a convent where’s there’s this black singer on the run...  Huh wait.
 

Anyway, add THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE to your must-see list, especially if you’re a LACE fan.  There’s no “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” type of a scene but there’s plenty other form of scandals that will quench your thirst for the melodrama.

 

Until next post--Martin


 

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