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on March 3, 2013
The 1978, seven-part Scottish Television adaption of Muriel Spark's classic short novel, 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,' is a remarkable in that more than half, and perhaps as much as three-fifths, of the material presented doesn't appear in the novel at all. Thus, the serial adaptation is actually a very broad fantasia upon the novel's plot, theme, and narrative, something most admirers of the book are unlikely to anticipate.

Spark's multifaceted and deceptively simple novel, which was published to worldwide acclaim in 1961, was adapted for the theater in the 1960s by Jay Presson Allen; the play then became a success on the London stage with Vanessa Redgrave and on Broadway with Zoe Caldwell in the title role.

Allen's literal but dramatic adaption altered or dropped many parts of Spark's novel, while bringing other elements to the forefront and, unlike the book, presented its story in strictly chronological fashion.

Allen then adapted her own play for the rousing 1969 film version, which was directed by Ronald Neame and which starred Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie. Smith won a richly deserved Academy Award for Best Actress for her volcanic performance, which heightened the profile of an already critically and commercially successful film.

It was with this complex checkered history behind it that the Scottish Television adaptation of 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1978, 2013) was produced, with Geraldine McEwan at its helm.

The series used both Spark's novel and Allen's play as sources, and was written by four writers, including Alick Rowe and Anne Stanley; the seemingly omnipresent Jay Presson Allen acted officially as "story consultant" on the project.

The Scottish Television serial is interesting on many levels; McEwan's Miss Brodie, for example, is a far more self-aware creature than Smith's Miss Brodie, and constantly wears an expression that is both sardonic and quizzical, one she freely offers to everyone around her, including her suspicious superiors at the private school in which she teaches.

Though the novel included six notorious "Brodie girls," their teacher's favorite pupils (and eventual confederates), the Allen play and screenplay reduced the number to four (and conflated troubled Mary McGregor with Joyce Emily Hammond), but the serial adaptation further reduces the number to two, Sandy Stranger and Jenny Grey, leaving gopherish Mary McGregor strictly on the sidelines until the final episode.

A third favorite, Rose Stanley, emerges as the serial progresses, and eventually two more girls, Dorothy and Juliet, emerge to take the place of Eunice Gardener and Monica Douglas, who haven't appeared in any version except the novel. Like Eunice and Monica, Dorothy and Juliet have talents in gymnastics and math. So the question arises: why didn't the writers simply name use the names Eunice and Monica?

Almost an entire 51-minute episode addresses Miss Brodie's attachment to new student Giulia Cibelli, the daughter of an Italian journalist who has sought political asylum in Scotland, fleeing as he has Miss Brodie's hero, Benito Mussolini. The episode is an interesting and imaginative, and seems true to the spirit of Spark's intentions, especially since it allows for a more thorough exploration of Miss Brodie's political thinking; but Giulia and her father do not appear in the novel at all.

The serial's initial episode also daringly invents a 50-minute 'backstory' for Miss Brodie before she becomes employed at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, where the balance of the story--and all of the novel--takes place.

Another episode of entirely new material develops of the novel's theme of budding female sexuality, here via Miss Brodie's cultivation of previously-overlooked pupil Rose Stanley. The audience is introduced to Rose's father, aunt, and two rather odious male cousins when Rose invites Sandy and Jenny over to her home for an afternoon, an invitation which fills the girls with apprehension, as neither is used to the company of teenage boys.

In the novel, Miss Brodie displaces her romantic passion for married art master Teddy Lloyd onto bachelor choirmaster Gordan Lowther, both of whom are also instructors at the conservative Marcia Blaine School, a critical plot thread which Allen exploited in both her adaptions. But Gordan Lowther is missing altogether from the Scottish Television serial, and Teddy Lloyd, like Mary McGregor, has been reduced to an incidental character. Here, there is no actual romance between Miss Brodie and Teddy Lloyd whatsoever, only a rather muted crush on Lloyd's part, who is as frustrated by the lack of artistic ambition among his pupils as he is with his coy fellow instructor's lack of interest in him.

Though one of the major themes of the novel, the play and the Neame film is the attempted suppression of the independent individualist by society's conformist members, the Scottish Television skirts the theme and dances around it, but never quite confronts it head-on.

Another key element of the novel is the betrayal of Miss Brodie by one of her own favored pupils, a betrayal which brings about Miss Brodie's downfall, a matter which Allen also made great dramatic hay of in both her play and screenplay. But the Scottish Television serial not only dispenses with the act of betrayal, but with Miss Brodie's downfall altogether.

Frustratingly, the serial doesn't wind up or resolve any of its many themes, either in or out of Miss Brodie's favor; it simply stops abruptly after the seventh episode, leaving the audience a little empty and wishing for rather more. Last seen, Miss Brodie is still employed and smiling mysteriously, undefeated.

Thus, the Scottish Television serial is far kinder to and more supportive of Miss Jean Brodie and her future than the book, play, and 1969 film are.

In the novel, 'Sandy Stranger,' her teacher's closest ally among "the Brodie girls," who betrays her instructor to the Marcia Blaine administration, is presented in almost as mysterious a fashion as Miss Brodie is herself.

Later in life, in the original text, Sandy becomes a cloistered nun who "clutches the bars of the grille" behind which she has guiltily imprisoned herself when visitors come to speak to her. A sad and permanent penitent, Sandy, as Sister Helena, lives out the balance of her existence in literal darkness.

In the 1969 film, Sandy (Pamela Franklin) is depicted as an oddball outsider who doesn't realize that her insider status is temporary, and who, as she matures, becomes a willful and envious rival of Miss Brodie's for Teddy Lloyd's erotic attention, a rivalry of which Miss Brodie is wholly unaware until the film's unforgettable final scene.

However, the serial adaptation presents Sandy as a pretty girl who is 'normal' in every way, and who reveals only slight pangs of envy when best friend Jenny is invited without her to Giulia's home. Nothing is presented to suggest that Sandy will ever betray Miss Brodie or become Teddy Lloyd's lover. Thus, the serial is far kinder to young Sandy as well.

McEwan gives an original, distinguished and dexterous performance as Miss Brody, and the entire serial is hauntingly scored by American composer Marvin Hamlisch.
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on February 17, 2014
I remembered this from its original airing, and was glad that it has been released on DVD. Makes a nice contrast with the better-known theatrical movie, in which Maggie Smith won an Oscar in the title role. Geraldine McEwan is superb in her own right as Muriel Sparks' charismatic teacher in 1930s Edinburgh. Yet, somehow, the miniseries wasn't quite as compelling as I remembered it, and it ends abruptly. But see it, by all means.
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on February 4, 2013
Give me a girl at an impressionable age and ....she'll be a Muriel Spark fan for life.

At last! At last! I have waited forever for the TV version to be available on DVD! I saw this TV series as an impressionable girl and it led to watching the movie, reading the novel, and reading some of Muriel Spark's other works. It's been so long (c. 1979) since I've seen it I'm not sure who makes a better Miss Brodie --- Maggie Smith or Geraldine McEwan. Cannot wait to load up the DVD and see it again.

If you like Lynsey Baxter as Sandy Stranger, check her out as the priggish fiance (to Jeremy Irons' Victorian scientist) in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

If someone who reads this review (or the much more thorough and better written 1st review) would post the news on the forum for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1978) at IMDB.com, I would be very grateful. Fingers crossed that the DVD is Region 1 for U.S. and Canadian viewers.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon January 10, 2013
It's considered THE masterpiece of Dame Muriel Spark (1918-2006). Teacher Brodie loved her students as much as education... and herself. What an interesting character to enjoy. The story takes in-depth looks at many characters, the good and the flawed. Gearaldine McEwan (Miss Marple) is outstanding in her performance as Miss Jean Brodie. The author considered this DVDs performance the pinnacle, the exact image of the controversial schoolmarm.

This 1978 TV series is the final adaptation of the book of the same name. It followed a 1969 film starring a younger Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey Seasons 1 & 2 Limited Edition Set - Original UK Version), also good. Who can fault Maggie's acting?, and she did win her first Oscar as Miss Brodie. Both ladies do a major acting job simply by using their wide range of facial expressions. The book was also a stage play. This series excels beyond the film or stage by offering many more hours to delve into the lives/minds/hopes of the Edinburgh school girls and staff. "Forsooth"

Spinster Brodie expects her students to aspire and achieve the level of "crème de la crème". Her "Class Room #5" expounds the virtues of "goodness, truth, and beauty," via love, politics, and art. She's haughty, pompous, tough feminist, eye-sparkling pixie, & confident. She's opposed by a prudish colleague, desired by the art teacher (John Castle- `A Dinner of Herbs,' `Bramwell'), guided by the headmistress (Madeleine Christie- `We'll Meet Again'), and idolized by a classroom of girls. You'll love the Scot accents.

SDH SUBTITLES available if desired. English only.
Episode 1- In NEWCASTLE Miss Brodie refuses a suitor (Robert Urquhart) & seeks a new position at elite Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburg. A new beginning on her 40th birthday, in 1930.

2- In EDINBURGH Brodie offers a March Founders' Day speech to new students, vexing Miss Gaunt (Georgina Anderson) but attracting handsome, war-wounded, and married art teacher Lloyd.

3- SANDY & JENNY fantasize romantic notions while researching sex via a dictionary and try to get Brodie to reveal facts-of-life details. The girls begin a romantic novel.

4- GIULIA, Italian, whets Brodie's appetite; as does Mussolini and fascism. Giulia invites Jenny (Amanda Kirby- South Riding) & Brodie to tea, leaving out and rifting Sandy (Lynsey Baxter- `Fr. Lt. Woman') who gets revenge.

5- ROSE (Tracey Childs) becomes a teacher's pet upon Brodie learning rose is motherless. Jealousy/resentment abounds among fellow students.

6- DOROTHY & JULIET predicted to stardom, dance and math respectively, after the performance of a famous ballerina inspires Brodie.

7- MARY MacGREGOR (Jean McKinley) appears to be Miss Brodie's crème de la crème worst failure, but the teacher tries harder.
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on February 5, 2015
A very entertaining expansion of Dame Maggie Smith's Oscar winning performance in the 1968 film of the same name. A superb showing from Geraldine McEwan (Mapp & Lucia, Miss Marple) who died last month. Scottish Television did a wonderful job producing this 7 part mini-series in 1978.
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on October 6, 2013
this did not include the full novel. it ends somewhere in the middle, making no sense of it. the acting, as far as it went, was excellent, but personally, Dame Maggie Smith's movie and portrayal are the crème de la crème.
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on April 14, 2014
Having not seen (yet) the Oscar-winning 1969 film with Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie, I came to this delightful miniseries with a clean slate. I was immediately hooked. Geraldine McEwan is a brilliant actress, known to television viewers as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple for three seasons. She is elegant, graceful, swan-like in her beauty and keenly intelligent in her work. She would have to be all those to take on the role of Jean Brodie so soon after Maggie Smith’s star turn.

Also in her favour was the medium in which Ms McEwan was playing Jean. Not in a feature film with an approximate running time of two hours, but on a much broader canvas, television, in the unique form of the miniseries.

Seven episodes of some 48 minutes each is a lot of storytelling time. With such a beloved novel as Muriel Sparks’ “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” to draw from, small wonder the television adaptation stands out.

Judging from the synopsis of the novel, there appears to have been material for more than seven episodes and, curiously, this is precisely the one and only criticism I have of this otherwise superb version. I wanted more. Specifically I wanted to know how Jean ended up.

But absence of a proper ending still does not dull the effect of the truly wonderful seven “episodes in the life and career of one Miss Jean Brodie”, which might make a good alternate title to the program.

In typical English tradition, the acting is at the forefront of the accolades. What particularly stands out, apart from Ms McEwan’s unforgettable interpretation, is the consistently brilliant work of the teen actors who play Miss Brodie’s students. Lynsey Baxter and Amanda Kirby as Sandy and Jenny respectively, give subtle, nuanced performances which are essential to the show’s success. Ms. Baxter has gone on to a successful career as an adult while Ms Kirby appears to have bowed out of acting.

Equally impressive is the direction, which is of a very high standard, showing creativity and sensitivity at the most unexpected times. A gym class scene, for example, evolves into a formidable display of directing without drawing attention to itself. Always apparent is the balance between worlds: Miss Brodie’s, that of the children, the art teacher who nurses an unfulfilled passion for Jean, and many others.

As mentioned, the only thing missing is additional episodes. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE could easily sustain another two or three episodes to tell the rest of its tale. Nonetheless, this is prime television viewing indeed.
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on April 5, 2013
S o much more fully developed than the movie that was made subsequently and which I felt couldn't be bested. BUT this had so much to offer filling in the background of the time and place. Mcewan is quite something as Miss Brodie, the girls are wonderful as are their parents and the parents backgrounds...It was very much more than a star turn.
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on September 3, 2013
Excellent performances, especially by McEwan, really make this a special treat. Even though the series has no "end," each episode is a self contained look at Miss Brodie and her girls. Watch for the great confrontation between Miss Brodie and Mr. Cibelli in the Guilia episode.
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on January 10, 2014
I remember this series back in the late 70's on PBS and enjoyed it very much. Glad that it's finally out on DVD!
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