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Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The

Twilight Time // PG // December 9, 2014 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted January 11, 2015 | E-mail the Author

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a critically acclaimed film which follows the character of Jean Brodie, a schoolteacher at an all girls school in Edinburgh. Based upon a successful book written by Muriel Spark, the story of the film takes place in the UK in the 1930's. Starring Maggie Smith in the title role, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was amongst the most successful films released in1969. It won many awards and high recognition for those involved in the production: the highest regard going to Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for her performance in the film.

The script for the film was written by Jay (Jacqueline) Presson Allen. Allen was one of the more successful female screenwriters during the 1960's.  Allen had written the play which preceded the motion-picture adaptation. The concept of bringing the story to the cinema was one which proved to be of great success for the screenwriter as she received strong reviews for both her play and film adaptations. The film does have a highly theatrical stage-play approach which Allen helped contribute towards with the screenplay emphasizing character dialogue more-so than cinematic action.

Maggie Smith is outstanding in the leading role and deserves the praise she received for her brave and accomplished performance. She makes the film and character her own in this production. Despite several other actors already performing the part during various stage productions of the story, Smith clearly brought her own unique sensibilities to Brodie and delivered a performance that carried the filmmaking to great heights. She has a strong acting presence and a manner of speaking and carrying herself. Through her performance, Smith made the character simultaneously maddening and saddening to behold. The performance also brings to mind Smith's great role in the Harry Potter series as Professor McGonagall, even though the teachers are so radically different. One can see how some of the strengths of the performance in this film might have inspired confidence in her being cast in the Harry Potter series decades later (even if the roles themselves are entirely unique).

The story of the film is simplistic in terms of approach (i.e. this isn't a plot-heavy film). The primary thematic content of the film revolves around the idea of whether or not Jean Brodie actually is good at teaching. It is through Brodie's type of teaching and her behavior around students that the film explores its primary conflicts and the tension which will ensue. Viewers looking for a plot-centric film will walk away disappointed. A few key events happen which are character and thematic based. To discuss them is to spoil aspects of the film experience. Readers who have seen the film can read on.

Brodie tries to fill their heads with ideas about what they can or cannot be in the future of their lives: ideas that she seems to hope to dictate herself. She even has the audacity to say that once she teaches her girls she has them "forever" (implying that her teaching places her directly into the flow of their future lives). To a girl named Sandy (Pamela Franklin), she even suggests she will "become famous for sex" and seems to view her statement as some sort of progressive premonition. To another girl in the class named Jenny (Diane Grayson) she comments that she is "dependable" and has nothing more to say about her place within the class. Indeed, Brodie seems to mostly ignore Jenny within her elitist club (of sorts) that she forms with "her girls" - a circle of students which comprises of students Brodie seems to consider her finest pupils (though Jenny seems to almost fit in solely by her friendships to other girls in the group).

The girls at the school are 12 or 13 when Miss Brodie begins to teach them. She hopes that one of these girls can become Lloyd's lover ( as a sort of "replacement" for her) within a couple of years. Hoping that one of her prime pupils (who she also likes to refer to as the "crème de la crème") is going to be able to take her place as his mistress. She doesn't believe she can be engaged in an affair with Lloyd anymore because of his Catholic background, marriage, and children. Lastly, almost as an afterthought, she seems to feel she should leave him because of having a relationship to another man at the school named Mr. Lowther (Gordon Jackson), who Brodie seems to find boring and mundane compared to her painter Teddy (the "artist").

This statement suggesting the 'dependableness' of Jenny causes the ultimate conflict in the film as Brodie wishes to elect a girl to become a mistress for her lover, the despicable Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens), a married Catholic with a wife and several children who also has had a long term affair with Brodie (whom he seems obsessed with despite his equally common disregard for her attachment to him). Lloyd is a slime-ball: a sleazy and unkind person who doesn't seem to be caring at all for the people around him. Stephens does a terrific job of bringing this character to the screen with authenticity. The conflict of the film comes to a forefront when Jenny decides to become Lloyd's mistress at 17.

As the final act of the story unfolds, Jenny goes to the school headmistress Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) and tells her about her relationship to Teddy Lloyd, saying it was because of the ideas of Miss Brodie that she started to see him. She demands that the school fire Brodie. Her wish is granted, when the headmistress removes Miss Brodie from teaching (with full pay for one year), and the concluding act of the film is a conversation between Brodie and Jenny, who she realizes wasn't the "dependable" girl she thought she was (with Jenny acting as if everything which had occurred was to spite Brodie for not believing she could be known for something different than "dependableness").

Good teachers understand that being a teacher is not about prescribing something specific to your own views or ideas but about how education can lead to knowledge, insights, and skills: students can form their own views and opinions and grow while having learned a great deal through their educational experiences in the classroom.  Miss Brodie doesn't seem to even understand her own mantra of "beauty, honor, courage" which she repeatedly states is her goal as a teacher during the film. Brodie just seems to want to instill in students a sense of her own views (rather than to help them to form their own) and loyalty to herself. Brodie firmly believes her goals are what she has brought forth to her students, but she spends so much time pushing her strange ideas (such as in sequences in which she discusses her perceived brilliance of Mussolini and other fascists).

In my personal opinion, teachers are meant to inspire, educate, and help guide students along their own paths rather than to provide predetermined paths as to what or who they should or shouldn't be as considered by a teacher. Otherwise, there winds up being too many students who become ignored and end up in scenarios in which a certain teacher feels another student is more experienced or gifted in writing or athletics (to name a few curriculums) and spends a significantly larger amount of time helping those students rather than students who are struggling, but who want to do just as well as the best. Who says a student who faces the daunting task of learning how to read won't one day become a talented writer and reader? Perhaps these kinds of ideas won't spring to mind for everyone who views The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but I found the film's exploration of teaching fascinating. In a way, I appreciated seeing the film's thematic concepts explored more so than the actual filmmaking (though it is a excellent production).

The score and original song for the film was composed by Rod McKuen. McKuen, a popular bestselling poet, author, and composer crafted a more traditional style score to the film that seems largely minimalistic and blends into the film without feeling too flamboyant in style during the experience. Unlike the epic scores of modern composers like John Williams or Michael Giacchino (amongst others), it's a quieter score that has a soft undertone to the filmmaking. Strangely, the film's ending scene and credits concludes with a rock ballet composition also composed by Rod McKuen: "Jean". I thought the song felt somewhat misplaced given the rest of the film's music but many viewers (listeners?) disagreed: the composition managed to win both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Song on release of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Directed by Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure, Hopscotch), the film has a strong sense throughout the production of being highly theatrical in style. The film clearly attempts to be a adaptation that stays closely to the stage. While some might want to chalk this up to the script written by Jay (Jacqueline) Presson Allen, who adapted the film from her own play version, it seems reasonable to say that some of the success of this stylistic approach is because the film's staging is done in a manner that reminds one of stage productions more than film productions in general. There aren't many cuts from the editing or cinematography approaches which reflect the cinematic approach: rather, many sequences play out with more attention given to the actors and the style of cinematography. The film's direction serves mostly to help propel the other attributes of the filmmaking without superseding them. Neame has done a commendable job at making the film feel like an "actor's film": if the goal was to bring the attention to the performances more so than stylistic flourishes, the film succeeds amply and is worth watching for the performances the filmmaker brings forth in this successful adaptation.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie ultimately works because it is a character-based drama and it gives the actors ample opportunity to shine. The storytelling gives adequate presence to the actors and allows them breathing room to bring the characters to life believably. While the majority of the film is focused on the thematic idea of what bad teaching can do, it manages to be more compelling for not only exploring this concept but for the portrayal brilliantly brought to life by Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie: a teacher who seems so determined to be a positive influence in her student's lives, but is actually causing more problems. The end result is one of Smith's best performances and a compelling drama.

The Blu-ray:


Video:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded image in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. The release has a impressive layer of film grain and the whole presentation is naturally filmic. This helps the presentation to stand out as a faithful and well reproduced transfer. Technically, the scan is nearly perfect as well and with almost nothing of note as far as dirt, damage, and other PQ anomalies. The film clearly had a well done scan and looks like a high quality presentation showcasing the original film elements. Color, detail, clarity, and depth are all noteworthy on Twilight Time's strong Blu-ray release, which also has a high bit-rate. It is always splendid to commend transfers without issues like DNR, edge enhancement, compression artifacts, and the like. This is a first-rate presentation that is sure to please fans of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Audio:

Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono, the film has wisely not been dramatically altered as far as the original sound design is concerned. The audio design is rather simplistic and won't impress those looking for a showy audio presentation. What the presentation will do is work as effectively as it can with faithfully reproducing the intended sound from when the film was released theatrically. The audio sounds as clean, crisp, and splendid as possible for the dialogue. This is clearly a soundtrack that has been cleaned up effectively: there are no pops, hiss, and other audio issues to note. The benefits of the lossless audio can also be heard with a smoother sound.

Extras:

This release includes the standard Twilight Time inclusion of a booklet with an essay on the film written by critic Julie Kirgo.

On disc supplements include an isolated music and effects track and an audio commentary with Director Ronald Neame and Actress Pamela Franklin. Lastly, the original theatrical trailer has been provided.

Final Thoughts:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an effective dramatic effort which is a marriage between the theatrical and cinematic worlds of performance storytelling. This is a worthwhile effort which feels more compelling because of the performance delivered by Maggie Smith. The effort also features a strong script by Jay (Jacqueline) Presson Allen and capable direction from Ronald Neame. With an impressive technical presentation from label Twilight Time (the PQ/AQ are both outstanding), this excellent Blu-ray release comes recommended for fans of the film.

Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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