Directed by Ronald Neame, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie was the film which won Maggie Smith her first Oscar. And understandably so, as playing the fire haired flamboyant titular character, she speeds her way through daily life at the conservative school that she works for, Marcia Blaine For Girls. To her female colleagues, she is a confronting dichotomy to the school’s principles. To her male colleagues, she is something to lust after. To her students, whom she refers to as “Brodie’s girls”, she is inspiring, delightful, and someone to seek affection from. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age,” she states boldly in her first scene, “and she is mine for life.”
Following the footsteps of four girls under her care, particularly from the point of view of studious Sandy (Pamela Franklin), their feelings for their daring teacher begin to change as they themselves begin to grow up. The once rambunctious one-liners that Miss Brodie would deal out to great mirth when they were younger, begin to sting as adolescence sets in. The fanciful gossiping that they shared about her relationship with the male teachers darkens when, as teenagers, she encourages them to flirt with one of her ex-lovers, played by Robert Stephens.
The film is as much about putting away childish things, as it is a portrait of an eccentric and often sad individual. As Jean Brodie, Smith is a powerhouse of romanticism, sly wit, political naivete and loneliness. She has built an “envious” lifestyle for herself upon the adulation of her students; for as soon as they grow up, there will be others to take their place. Smith was rightly commended for her performance, but Franklin must also be applauded, showing herself, even at the age of just sixteen, to be formidable in her final scenes with Smith.
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie will screen as part of David Stratton’s The 2nd Great Britain Retro Film Festival at The Hayden Orpheum in Sydney’s Cremorne, which runs from May 12-June 1. For full programme information, dates, tickets, and sessions, head to The Hayden Orpheum.