Monday, February 24, 2014

The Free Spirit of Miss Jean Brodie

"For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like."

Miss Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith)

Was there a Miss Jean Brodie on the faculty when you were in school?

There were teachers in my schools who had some of her qualities — but I can't think of anyone who was quite like the very liberated Miss Jean Brodie.

(And when I say "liberated," that was kind of a scandalous thing all by itself in the period between the two world wars.)

She was a spitfire.

A teacher at a girls school in Scotland in the 1930s, Miss Jean Brodie had a reputation for wandering from the prescribed course of study in promoting art, music, drama and seeking, in general, to influence her girls (or "gulls," as she pronounced it). She believed she was in the prime of her life, and she intended for her students — in particular, four 12–year–olds (Pamela Franklin, Shirley Steedman, Diane Grayson, Jane Carr) — to be the beneficiaries of her knowledge.

Brodie and the four often went to plays, concerts, museums — which provoked the headmistress and others on the faculty, especially since Brodie was involved with a male music teacher and had been involved with a male art teacher.

The music teacher, who was also church choirmaster, was asked to resign by the church because of his relationship with Brodie, and she lost the allegiance of the art teacher, who had been more prone to be supportive of Brodie's unorthodox classroom approach than just about anyone else on the faculty.

"I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the creme de la creme. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life."

Miss Jean Brodie

The art teacher, as it turned out, had begun a relationship with one of Brodie's girls (Franklin). It was the subject of some conversation. But the art teacher was still obsessed with Brodie, and Franklin's character broke things off with him.

"Miss Brodie never got married like our mothers and fathers," observed Grayson's character at one point.

"They don't have primes," Franklin's character said.

"They have sexual intercourse," replied Grayson.

The script crackled, especially when Franklin's character figured out Brodie and confronted her. There was no such confrontation in the book upon which the Tony Award–winning play and, ultimately, the movie were based.

Smith won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, but, otherwise, "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" was largely ignored by the Oscars. Rod McKuen's song "Jean" was nominated for Best Song but lost to "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

Franklin wasn't nominated for an Oscar, but she did win the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" at 5 p.m. (Central) this Thursday.