Sunday, 8 December 2019

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Off-List: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The third off-List movie of 1969 is “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, recommended by Bea of Flickers in Time.

This is a movie about a flamboyant and unconventional teacher on a conservative school for girls in Scotland in the 1930’ies and immediately I get associations to movies like “Dead Poet Society” or “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. That is, of movies with a teacher rebelling against a restrictive or even oppressive school system in order to make the children better people.

Imagine my surprise when I take an instant dislike of the titular Miss Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith).

Miss Brodie is an arrogant and vain woman who is convinced she is in her prime. She uses her class as an adoring audience while she tells them essentially about herself and how wonderful she is. She is playing off two of the male teachers against each other without ever committing to either and she takes on favorite pupils for special outings and attention. Not to mention she is a great fan of Fascism and Mussolini and other great romantic conquerors.

Basically, she fails on every single parameter and I was wondering why we are supposed to see this vain woman as the great reformer of the school system. Especially since the grey and stoic headmistress of the school, Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson from “Brief Encounter”!) is actually sweet and quite reasonable. Sure, the pensum is mostly regular knowledge like math and science and reading with the occasional “female activities” like sewing and the color scheme of the school is varieties of grey, but in my poor opinion any of these are better than what Brodie is doing.

When we get into the story, the current Brodie set, Brodie’s favorite girls, consists of Sandy (Pamela Franklin), Monica (Shirley Steedman), Jenny (Diane Grayson) and Mary (Jane Carr). These are the special girls Brodie has hand picked to train for something special, to become “crème-de-la-crème”. To no big surprise though, Brodie’s scheme completely fails and rather than adore her, the girls mock and despise her.

This comes to a head when Mary, inspired by Brodie’s fascist supporting talk, goes to Spain to find her brother, but land on the wrong side since her brother is fighting against the Fascists and is killed. Sandy take it upon herself to put a stop to Brodie and even at that moment Jean Brodie fails to understand just how far off the mark she is.

I started out disliking the movie, but when I finally realized that the movie was not endorsing Miss Brodie but rather warning against her special kind of stupidity, the movie grew on me. It was a sweet moment when she learns how completely she has failed, but it was a hollow sweetness because she entirely fails to grasp the reasons why.

Maggie Smith won the Academy Award for her effort and if that award is given for most annoying voice of the year, I would say it was well earned.

Recommended? Well, I will have to think about that. Maybe eventually, but for the moment I disliked that character too much to endorse the film.



  1. Replies
    1. It is not a bad movie, at least once you realize that you are not supposed to root for Miss Brodie, and there is a savage satisfaction in watching her world crumble, but she is a very tiresome character.
      I will still thank you for recommending it.

  2. Yeah, Miss Brodie is the villain, and if you're not clear on that, it's a very strange watch.

    Regarding her voice, the following clip is worth a watch:

    1. That is a very funny clip. I love Stephen Frye.
      I did realize early on that Brodie was the villain, but I had the impression that the movie only decided this was so fairly late. Probably I am influenced by all the School rebellion movies I have seen. A character in her position will practically always be the progressive person we are supposed to root for. In hindsight I actually liked the message that this person sticking out perhaps is in the wrong.

  3. We are programmed to enter these movies and expect the teacher-as-hero cliche, fighting against the system and inspiring their students. This is not one of those movies, and yes, it is a jarring realization! Once I got past that, I really enjoyed it.

    1. Indeed, and this movie seems to play along on this trope far into the movie. When it finally turns around though it is quite satisfying to watch.