Monday, January 13, 2014

Movie Monday: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Before we dive into Movie Monday, I wanted to quickly announce the winner of the My Mother's Funeral giveaway! Congrats to Jamie! You'll have to let us all know what you think of the book after you read it!

On the second and fourth Monday of every month, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize that few people have the time or desire to read the amount that I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good movie almost as much as a good book.

It seems like ages since I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. I finished it at the end of August, which may as well be a lifetime ago. The classic novel did not do much to impress. Yes, it was good, but it never captured me the way some books do.

Thankfully for the movie version, I am head over heels in love with Dame Maggie Smith. The Dowager Countess/Professor McGonagall ranks as one of my all time favorite actresses.  If she, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Jennifer Lawrence would just make a movie together, I could die happy.

As with nearly everything Dame Smith does, she is golden. Actually, she literally is in this movie. It is, I believe, the only role I've ever seen her play with blonde hair. It's also the earliest work of hers that I have seen. Physically, she appears quite different than she does in her recent roles, but her on-screen spark and talent apparently arrived early in life and are everlasting.

Maggie Smith makes it easy to understand why these school girls are so drawn to Miss Jean Brodie in the first place.  She is charismatic and energetic both in the classroom and out. At times, she rules supremely as the all-knowing teacher; at times she is a friend of equal footing to the girls. As anyone who has every been in an educational setting knows, this is a recipe for both student adoration and complex relationships with authority - the students to the teacher and the teach to the administration.

The movie, which won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Picture, puts the fluid timeline of the book into a linear structure.  This helped a lot with understanding the story, but it also took away some of the emotional turmoil felt in the novel.

The relational dynamic between characters has shifted as well. The dialogue between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lowry is much more open than in the book. Brodie's conversation with Sandy at the end is quite different as well.  Positively, the affair between Sandy and Lowry seems much more realistic on screen. I could never quite understand how that happened while reading about it, but the tense chemistry between the actors helped considerable.

Of course, if doesn't hurt that Sandy makes quite the Pretty Woman transformation on screen. She starts as the quintessential ugly duckling before developing into a lovely young woman. I suddenly understood very clearly why Mr. Lowry was interested. Oh, and there's that surprise shot of her boobs. Yeah...definitely didn't see that coming. Be warned.

As I said, Maggie Smith really did make this movie. The scenes without her were fine, but she just lights up the screen. She plays the ending particularly well. You truly buy into Miss Brodie's utter devastation at the betrayal.

My only real complaint is a small one. In the book, Mr. Lowther only has one arm. I realize the technical difficulties of pulling this off on screen, particularly in the era in which it was filmed. I also realize that the missing arm does not necessarily add anything to the story. Still, it always bothers me when directors or producers start messing with character integrity.  

All in all, this is a charming film. Maggie Smith is delightful and the plot is engaging enough to keep you interested. This may be blasphemy, but I actually would recommend the movie before the book. Ah! Can I say that? The book is good and all, but if you have to choose, go with Maggie Smith every time. 

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