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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
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104 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2004
Format: DVD
Here's a film whose reputation seems to have declined over the years. Highly regarded and hugely successful when it first came out, it now seems a bit static with a plot that is a tad too predictable. The main attraction of the film was always the mesmerising and award-winning performance of Maggie Smith. But today some people might find her acting overly mannered or too theatrical. However, I am not one of them. I have always thought that Maggie Smith was one of the finest actresses ever. And a genuine eccentric.

The film consists of lots and lots of dialogue delivered in quaint Scottish accents. (The accents are not as much a problem for American audiences as they are in other films such as Gregory's Girl.) There is an occasional glimpse of old Edinburgh but, for the most part, the settings are confined to interiors. The film is directed and photographed professionally and unobtrusively. The 1930's period is nicely byt subtly evoked. The one discordant element is the rather twee musical score by Rod McKuen. The emphasis, as in a play, is on the characters.

The supporting cast are just that but most of them manage to have their moments. Robert Stephens (married to Maggie Smith at the time) is quite good as a slightly bohemian art teacher. Gordon Jackson steps somewhat out of his usual typecasting to portray a wimp of a music teacher. Celia Johnson is positively evil as the jealous and strait-laced headmistress. Best of all is Pamela Franklin as Miss Brodie's pet pupil - a nicely shaded and slightly underplayed performance that both contrasts and complements Maggie Smith's flamboyant turn.

And it is Maggie Smith that you will be mostly watching. Demonstrating all the emotions from dreamy idealist to dedicated teacher to fliratious lover to frustrated spinster to defiant victim. Every line of dialogue is delivered perfectly - every move of her body is exactly appropriate to her character. She dominates the film without overpowering it. In many ways, it is basically a stage performance but she manages to make it work in the context of a film. In the end, you may not entirely love her character, but you will certainly understand her. And that is what great acting is all about.

I have seen The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie many times and have often found myself wishing that Maggie Smith's brilliant performance had been in a better film. But it's hardly a bad one. Old-fashioned and somewhat stagebound perhaps. But you forget all that whenever Maggie Smith is on the screen.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
First you must understand that I am not an easy critic, I notice all the little things in a movie that others might overlook or just choose to ignore.
That said, this is a brilliant (but not perfect)movie.
The acting of Maggie Smith is superb beyond words. She starts out as a heroine, just the type of teacher we would all like to have. As the movie progresses, the character of Miss Brodie moves closer and closer to a breakdown. What's brilliant is that this peril is obvious to the viewer, but not to Miss Brodie herself, a most difficult task for a screen-writer, a director, and an actress to accomplish.
The depiction of Edinburgh in the 30's is so realistic that you really feel as though you've been put into some sort of time machine- this is one of my favorite aspects of the film, and also the beautifully haunting soundtrack. I truly admire when a film is able to transport you to another place and time and make you truly feel it.
The movie is quite different from the book to be sure (aren't they all?) but the location filming, and the truly brilliant acting overcome any drawbacks.
The film is also notable for the performance of Pamela Franklin.
If you've only seen her in Disney movies, be prepared for a very different Pamela Franklin this time around.
I have watched this film over 10 times now and still do not fully understand it. Is Miss Brodie the Miss-understood heroine? Or is she truly a dangerous person intent on using others so that she can live vicariously through them? Is the film a warning to all of us that evil lurks where least expected? Or is it a trip inside our souls, in those deep somber moments where we have all been betrayed by our dearest and most trusted friends?
Watch the film and decide for yourself. Either way, you will have a beautiful journey thru the very mind and soul of a most complex character, in a nostalgic era, brilliantly portrayed by Maggie Smith.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 29, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
You only begin to understand what the writer and screenwriter of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is trying to say when you realize that the student who ultimately becomes the most like Miss Brodie (Maggie Smith) is Sandy (Pamela Franklin), and that the story is really being told from Sandy's point-of-view. She learns to be as judgmental and irresponsible as her teacher, full of misguided ideals and grievances, and totally confident that the world is as simplistic as she wants it to be. Which is why the film begins with a shot of Miss Brodie on her way to the school and goes out on a shot of Sandy leaving the school, with a Brodie voice-over about her teaching philosophy.

Once you understand that the Sandy transformation is the principle dynamic, the rest of the story fits together rather smoothly. The on-going struggle between Miss Brodie and the headmistress is almost a Hitchcock McGuffin, providing a lot of character motivation but ultimately of little importance.

Another key is the use of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott". "When the Moon was overhead, Came two young lovers lately wed; "I am half sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott."

In the poem she is a magical being who lives alone on an island upstream from King Arthur's Camelot. Her purpose is to look at the world outside her castle window in a mirror, and to weave what she sees into a tapestry. She is forbidden by the magic to look at the outside world directly. Looking at the world in a mirror and depicting it in a work of art is an allegory for the life of a teacher viewing the world from an ivory tower and interpreting it for her young students. And Miss Brodie's often fearless lifestyle is much like the heroic action taken by Tennyson's lady which leads to her doom.

Finally there is the irony of the betrayal by the one student who is the most like her, the only one in whom she really confides. But the film illustrates the disconnect between Miss Brodie and Sandy, who gets her back up that Miss Brodie considers Jenny the ideal. Brodie is too self-absorbed to pick up on Sandy's growing disenchantment just as she does not have the insight to realize that Mary McGregor's brother was fighting against (not for) Franco in Spain.

In many ways Miss Brodie is a wonderful teacher and most young girls would have benefited from membership in the Brodie set, mostly because of her encouragement to openly explore the possibilities life offers. She contrasts the word "education", derived from the Latin "educere" (to lead out)-seeing her role as leading out her students' own ideas by encouraging them to think for themselves with the conventional teaching style of "intrusion"- the stuffing of heads with required information.

Which adds a lot of complexity to the production and makes it quite unique. One on level it is a rebel teacher fighting the repressive system to give her students a better education. While on another level it is clear that she is going a bit too far and messing up some of her charges.

The film covers a five-year period and the 18 year-old Franklin believably manages a transformation from a mousy 12 year-old to a sexually liberated young woman. Her nude scene in the artist's studio shocks the viewer because the passage of time has been handled quite casually and because it is really a reverse striptease, starting nude and slowly putting "on" her clothes.

The DVD has a commentary feature by Director Ronald Neame and Pamela Franklin. It too is quite unusual as they were not together in the studio and their voices alternate throughout the film without having any interaction. Neame tends to digress too often to other events in his career but the commentary still manages to provide some useful information.

Ultimately this is a depressing but interesting story with Miss Brodie's colorful outfits standing out in the grays and browns that dominate the production design.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2001
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
As others have noted, "Miss Brodie" is a complex character. To say she's sexually repressed is just the start. In addition, her political idealism is snarled up with her sexual frustrations, so that, on one hand, she appears "liberal" in encouraging her girl pupils to explore the "possibilities" life offers (even if she herself continually retreats from them), but on the other harbors an admiration for arch-conservative (read "fascist") leaders like Mussolini. In reality, of course, her idealism leads her to identify with "Kaiserian" autocrats in her role as educator ---one of the funniest moments in the film, in fact, occurs when she's leading some of her understudies on a school outing, and "Sandy" (played by the beautiful Pamela Franklin) starts swinging her arms in a marching rhythm, deliberately emulating one of Brodie's "fascisti." Yet despite the identification, Miss Brodie is ultimately too timid to play the role of autocrat in any direct way, and so couches her "fascist" tendencies in rhetorical paeans to art and beauty. Meanwhile, the only real artist in Brodie's school also happens to be her disdained paramour (played by Robert Stephens) - another amusing moment occurs when he says to her: "You went to bed with an artist, but were horrified when you woke up with a man."
Maggie Smith may have won the Oscar as the title character, but Pamela Franklin happens to be one of my favorite actresses, so I'm biased in my admiration for her in this film. Incredibly cute as "Sandy," she also pulls off a convincing transformation from a rather uncultivated little girl in the first half of the film to a sexually liberated young woman toward the end. Her nude scene in the artist's studio, in fact, is startling considering the film was made in 1968 (see closing credits), and nudity in American commercial films at that time was rare. In fact, she looks so child-like that one can only suppose the studio setting was the only thing that precluded outright censorship. In any case, Ms. Franklin displays a capacity for complexity that rivals Maggie Smith herself, and it seems almost fitting that her character ends up with most of the "freedom" that Brodie can realize only vicariously. The pitched battle she wages with her teacher to attain independence of thought and selfhood is just one of the things that makes this a superior and rewarding film.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2004
Format: DVD
This film is an excellent psychological study of a spinister schoolteacher and the four girls who comprise the "Brodie set." Maggie Smith beautifully portrays the egocentrical and deluded Jean Brodie, who insists throughout the film that she is "in her prime," thereby excusing her from taking accountability for her actions. But you don't dislike Miss Brodie; in fact, the viewer simultaneously pities her and admires her. Maggie Smith brings a great deal of humanity to the role; we see both her grasp for control and her struggle with her weaknesses. Smith certainly deserved the 1969 Oscar for Best Actress.
Pamela Franklin is captivating in the role of self-righteous Sandy, the only girl in the Brodie set who appears to have any genuine intellect. Her gradual maturity throughout the film is quite credible, and I especially liked the scene near the beginning of the film where Sandy and Jenny discuss their views on sex. Both funny and sad. (However, I was a bit shocked by Sandy's nude scene. This film should have a PG-13 rating.)
The movie was filmed on location in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, and the outdoor scenes compliment Miss Brodie's lectures and opinions beautifully. A good, literary film that examines both the complexities about being a woman and what it means to be a teacher. I also highly recommend the novel by Muriel Spark.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2010
Format: DVD
Maggie's Smith's Jean Brodie accomplishes the near impossible, creating sympathy for an arrogant, self absorbed, dangerous woman. This schoolteacher blithely steers the lives of her favorite students, "the Brodie Girls" into treacherous waters to vicariously fulfill her own frustrated needs and desires. Her unrealized ambitions are projected onto her girls: Jenny to be a great lover/artist's model, Monica a famous actress or playwright, Mary a revolutionary freedom fighter, and finally Sandy, a spy or Secret Service Agent to report back to Miss Brodie on the others activities. Whether they are suited for these particular vocations is no matter to her, as she doesn't see their actual characters and personalities, and will try to make them fit the mould she has created in her image.

That being said, Ms. Smith lets us view the pathos, as Miss Brodie views life through the distorted prism of her romantic illusions she truly has not a clue as to the irreparable damage she unwittingly inflicts on two of her original "Brodie Girls". At the film's climax when confronted with the evidence of this, she is astonished, wounded, and unbelieving of the truth. This is a tragedy because she does possess the ability to be a first class educator and mentor to her students at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. The other female teachers are by and large well meaning, but rather staid, provincial and dull. Jean Brodie with her strawberry blonde bob, clad in brightly hued dramatic frocks resembles an iridescent hummingbird that has somehow flitted in among the drab sparrows and wrens that comprise most of the female teaching staff. This coupled with Miss Brodie's independent spirit and rather superior attitude provokes jealousy and resentment down through the ranks of the staff. The headmistress Miss Mackay perceives Ms. Brodie as a threat, and as such is on a crusade to rid Marcia Blaine of her presence. Jean is well aware of this but continues on her self-destructive path, mistakenly believing her reputation and tenure as a teacher, and more importantly the loyalty of her girls will protect her.

For us to accept such a flawed character the actress playing Jean Brodie must radiate charisma. Maggie Smith goes beyond this, she mesmerizes us, and we are as spellbound as her students by her classroom soliloquies, held in thrall by this enchantress. Miss Brodie opens a new colorful world to her favorites. Scotch history comes vividly to life as she takes them on a walking tour of the older districts of Edinburgh, where the actual events she describes took place. There are forays to the art museum, where Ms. Brodie tells them of the life of Gauguin, they attend performances of classic theatre, opera and ballet, enlightening a cultural life that is virtually ignored at the conservative Marcia Blaine. Diverse artists such as Giotto, Michelangelo, Sybil Thorndike, Anna Pavlova and Dante Gabriel Rossetti are discussed and admired. In al fresco school picnics and Sunday luncheons, the "Brodie Girls" are introduced to such exotic dishes as pate de foie gras, sweetbreads a la Milanese, and charlotte russe. Initially Jean Brodie appears to be an Auntie Mame of schoolteachers, eccentric, flamboyant but well meaning and loveable, making her clique aware of the infinite possibilities of life until hints of a darker, more malign influence begin to emerge.

There is a lengthy tour de force sequence by Maggie Smith that illuminates the bravura quality of her performance, and shows just why she won the Best Actress Oscar. It begins in Miss Mackay's office, who makes a ludicrous attempt to force Jean to resign; Miss Brodie's fiery warrior reduces Miss Mackay to a stunned silence, and Miss Brodie leaves the field victorious. However immediately thereafter she has two stormy encounters with her present and former lovers, Mr. Lowther and Mr. Lloyd. The cumulative effect of all three interviews leaves Miss Brodie shaken and very vulnerable emotionally, and perhaps for the first time she experiences a fleeting moment of self-awareness that her life is empty at the core. Determined to rise above it however, she briskly gives a slide show presentation of her recent vacation in Italy to her class. Still she cannot maintain this false bravado for long, and slips into a meandering reverie to the bewilderment of her students before finally dissolving into tears. Of such magical moments are Academy Award winning performances made!

By rights, Pamela Franklin as Sandy and Celia Johnson as Miss Mackay should have both joined Ms. Smith in the winner's circle, in a tie for Best Supporting Actress, but incredibly they weren't even nominated! Ms. Franklin's achievement is the more remarkable, since she was all of 18 years old, and convincingly plays a schoolgirl from ages 12 to 18 years of age. Sandy is the brightest of the Brodie girls, made wise beyond her years, but taken for granted by Miss Brodie, who will ultimately be surpassed by her. In the final charged, verbal duel between them, Ms. Franklin stands toe to toe with Ms. Smith, no mean feat. Celia Johnson's Miss Mackay is something of an enigma; in her case still waters certainly do run deep. The viewer is not quite sure what's she's thinking and what is motivating her vendetta against Miss Brodie, why the intense dislike, is it jealousy, fear, honest concern for the students welfare, all of these, something else we'll never learn? Ms. Johnson's seamless, effortless acting keeps us guessing and interested as to who will ultimately prevail; she is a worthy opponent for Miss Brodie.

The only male roles in the film are those of Miss Brodie's lovers past and present, both teachers at Marcia Blaine. Teddy Lloyd, dark, intense and sardonic is the married art master at the school, and also a painter in his spare time. Although Jean loves him, and he is besotted with her, she will not rekindle the romance, and instead uses Mr. Lowther, the music teacher as a proxy in her bed. Robert Stephens, Maggie Smith's real life husband at the time portrays Teddy, the chemistry between the two providing a real flame to their scenes together. Gordon Jackson plays Gordon Lowther, the blond, ruddy, music teacher, bound by convention, and very much dominated by Jean. Their furtive sex life causes him more guilt than pleasure, and he cannot understand why Jean won't marry him. Lowther is wishy-washy, but Jackson does the best he can with an impossible part, finally giving him a set of balls when he belatedly stands up to Miss Brodie and tells her what he wants from their relationship.

A special mention to Diane Grayson, Shirley Steedman and particularly Jane Carr who play the rest of the Brodie Girls,respectively Jenny, Monica and the hapless Mary McGregor, and are fine indeed. The script by Jay Van Presson Allen improves on Muriel Spark's original novel while retaining the wit, most of which is tartly delivered by Maggie Smith, as for example the title line of this review. A final tip of the hat to Ronald Neame who as director who pulls all the elements together to create an excellent engrossing film.

Quick word about the extras on the DVD; commentaries by Ronald Neame and Pamela Franklin, some very good anecdotes about making the film, also some filler, still worth a listen, but you miss Maggie Smith's participation, plus a still gallery of photographs from the production and the original trailers. Still, the ultimate draw once and for always will be Maggie Smith's legendary schoolteacher to remember.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Maggie Smith, who in my opinion is the most talented movie actress of the age, delivers here her greatest performance. Her acting and this movie are a triumph. There's simply nothing like it in the whole of cinemotography. No one can really "become" the character as successfully as Mrs. Smith. The film depicts the story of a Scottish schoolteacher who essentially teaches fascism and the ideals of romantic and artistic beauty to her "girls". Notice as you view the film Ms. Brodie's teaching method is not only very advanced but also very modernly autocratic. She takes her opinion as the only plausible and reasonable standard fit to hold and impresses her philosophy upon her girls. Though you feel the intensity of Ms. Brodie's humanity, you cannot but accept the dangerous quality of her thoughts and actions. I don't wish to bore you by recounting the plot- the film does that well enough itself. Let me just further explain the movies method of intensification. One, Ms. B is an extreme contrast to her fellow teacher's and her environment's standards. Two, Sandy's- and the others'- initiation (growing up) is in a dilemma: live life by Mrs. Brodie's values or by her own. The film really is superb and should be seen by anyone who enjoys fine storytelling intertwined with superior acting and complex characterization and themes. Other films that I strongly recommend are "Darling" (1965), starring Julie Christie in an Oscar-winning performance, "Tom Jones" (1963) with Albert Finney (another Oscar-winner), "The Third Man" (1949) starring Cotton and Welles, and "The Seventh Seal" by Ingmar Bergman- the Shakespeare of cinema.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2004
Format: DVD
Maggie Smith is the elegantly pert Miss Brodie, a 1930s Edinburgh school marm of immense panache, charm and wit in a film that's sort of a cross between a female version of "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "To Sir With Love." Smith's performance easily commands "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" beyond cliche and its theatrical trappings as she becomes the ultimate self-deluding spinster to whom Mussolini is a treasure on par with the Mona Lisa, and passionate love is but a taboo. Dame Brodie marks her existance on over-inflated romantic notions about art and beauty. Adapting from the novel by Muriel Spark, director Robert Neame keeps the pacing sweet and nimble, touching on all the right points without dwelling on any of them. Also in the cast are real-life husband, Robert Stephens as Jean's married lover and Celia Johnson who is marvelously insideous as the hostile headmistress. The film score by Rod McKuen may have been Oscar nominated but it betrays its 60s origins and really pigeon-holes the film as a production of that decade instead of seeming a vital tableau of the 30s.
THE TRANSFER: Fox has done a marvelous job remastering "Miss Brodie" on DVD. Colors are lush and nicely balanced. Black levels are deep and solid. Contrast and shadow levels are bang on. Some of the long shots suffer from pixelization which breaks up fine detail and there is also a very small trace of age related artifacts. These do not necessarily distract. The audio is stereo. Though dialogue does not sound natural it is nevertheless very clearly presented. The score - in all it's twinkle-twinkle get down of 60s flashback is amply displayed.
EXTRAS: An audio commentary and very sparce stills gallery. It really is a mystery to me why Fox's continues to benchmark certain catalogue titles as part of their Studio Series when their attention to suppliments continues to grow more scant by every release. Just call this a general release and be done with it. There's nothing special apart from the film to recommend such titles as part of a special series.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2004
Format: DVD
This has always been a favorite film of mine and now that is it
on DVD we have a letterboxed version. From the opening shots we
know we are in for a real treat. Maggie was just starting out in
the movies when she snared this role. Fox wanted Audrey Hepburn
or Deborah Kerr but Maggie made the role her own. She is not
alone. Celia Johnson as headmistress Miss Mackay is fabulous and
Gordon Jackson who later achieved world fame as Hudson in
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS is a superb Gordie Lowther. Smith and Johnson
both won British Academy Awards and a few weeks later Maggie was
an upset winner at the Oscars and there was hooting and hollering
and mass celebrations at our house. I am delighted that Fox has
put this on DVD.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 1998
Format: VHS Tape
This movie, for which Dame Maggie Smith won an academy award, may be one that you have never heard of, but it is well worth seeing. The story takes place in the 1930's in Edinburgh, and centers around a schoolteacher, her two loves, and her favorite "girls", each of whom has a characteristic that she seeks out in them. While the plot may not sound that facinating, the characters in the story are GREAT, they really make the movie come alive. Maggie Smith's performance is stunning!
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