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The Browning Version (The Criterion Collection)

4.8 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Michael Redgrave gives the performance of his career in Anthony Asquith's adaptation of Terence Rattigan's unforgettable play. Redgrave portrays Andrew Crocker-Harris, an embittered, middle-aged school master who begins to feel his life has been a failure. Diminished by poor health, a crumbling marriage, and the derision of his pupils, the once brilliant scholar is compelled to reexamine his life when a young student offers an unexpected gesture of kindness. A heartbreaking story of remorse and atonement, The Browning Version is a classic of British realism and the winner of Best Actor and Best screenplay honors at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival.


Michael Redgrave etched his subtlest and, in its peculiar way, most beloved screen performance in this classic film version of Terence Rattigan's play. Play and film chronicle the final day of teaching for Andrew Crocker-Harris, a cold-fish public school instructor who has long since outlived his early promise. That his classics students, his colleagues, and even his somewhat younger wife refer to him as "the Crock" is not a mark of affection. Wheezing pedantically, making arcane classical puns without hope of raising a laugh, he's an anti–Mr. Chips to whom nearly everyone will be happy to say goodbye. Except that on this last day, with his health failing, his wife (Jean Kent) openly carrying on an affair, and his headmaster (the redoubtably smarmy Wilfrid Hyde-White) eager to whisk him off to retirement, Crocker-Harris achieves an order of triumph that the film marks without a whiff of sentimentality.

Rattigan was a meticulous composer of the "well-made play," and Anthony Asquith, who directed 10 films from Rattigan scripts over a quarter-century, was a reliable craftsman who never tried to upstage his material. (Asquith's best film apart from Rattigan was the delicious rendition of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest he and Redgrave did the following year.) It's easy to protest that this is not a formula for exciting "cinema": every scene of The Browning Version could be (and had been) performed on stage. Yet this subtly shaded and finally very moving immersion in "human nature"--to use a phrase "the Crock" scorns at one point--makes a virtue of reticence. By the time it's over, you know it has all the cinema it needs. --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder
  • New video interview with Mike Figgis, director of the 1994 remake
  • Archival interview with Michael Redgrave from 1958
  • A new essay by film critic Geoffrey Macnab

Product Details

  • Actors: Michael Redgrave, Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Brian Smith
  • Directors: Anthony Asquith
  • Writers: Terence Rattigan
  • Producers: Earl St. John, Teddy Baird
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, Special Edition, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: June 28, 2005
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00092ZLFS
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,407 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Browning Version (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Curtis Crawford on September 29, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
Terence Rattigan's screenplay for "The Browning Version" expands and greatly improves his short stage play of the same name. The title refers to a translation by the poet, Robert Browning, of "Agamemnon," a classical Greek tragedy. The film's protagonist, Andrew Crocker-Harris, an English private school teacher brilliantly played by Michael Redgrave, once wrote a translation of "Agamemnon," and has been trying for years to teach 14-year-old boys to read the Greek original. Because of poor health and general dissatisfaction with his performance, he has resigned his position.
In the tragedy, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, aided by her lover. In the film, Crocker-Harris is spiritually dead, partly from spousal "murder," although the slaughter has been reciprocal, and his wife, Millie, is in worse shape than he. In tragedies, the hero starts out happy and becomes miserable. In this film, full of the sadness of professional and domestic failure, Crocker-Harris moves away from misery, via understanding and heartfelt repentance, to the possibility of happiness.
The reversal owes much to the intervention of Taplow, one of Crocker-Harris' students, and of Frank Hunter, his colleague and Millie's lover. The film deftly introduces these "good Samaritans" in a lively dispute, in which they display the personal qualities that will make them helpful to Crocker-Harris. Both are spirited, bold, good-natured, intelligent and well-rounded.
An interesting question is why they come to the rescue of Crocker-Harris and not of his wife. Her coarse brutality toward Crocker-Harris is hard to forgive, but so is his refined humiliation of students. At the outset, two huge defeats, heart disease and forced resignation, invite our compassion for him.
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Format: VHS Tape
I watched this movie many years ago on PBS simply by chance. I have since acquired my own copy and have watched it many times. The story and characters have remained with me ever since. Michael Redgrave gives a performance that is, quite simply, stunning. Redgrave plays an aging and depressed schoolmaster at an English boarding school who, despite a promising start as a teacher many years before, has now failed as a teacher and as a husband. His wife is a nightmare -- conniving, duplicitous and unfaithful. His tolerance of her maliciousness, and of his own failings, is touchingly played out in one heartrending scene after another. Into this malaise comes a young student who, unlike his fellow students, recognizes the brilliance and potential of the old schoolmaster. When he gives the old man the present of a book of poems by Browning, it reawakens a long lost spirit. If you see no other movie, see this one -- please. You'll never forget it. I never will.
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Format: DVD
In a classroom of a British public school modeled on Harrow, students are waiting for their classics master, Andrew Crocker-Harris. "I don't think the Crock gets a kick out of anything," says Taplow, one of the students. "In fact, I don't think he has any feelings at all. He's just dead, that's all...He can't hate people and he can't like people. And what's more, he doesn't like people to like him. If he'd give me a chance, I think I'd quite like him." "What"" says another student. "Well, I feel sorry for him, which is more or less the same thing, isn't it?"

Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) is a middle-aged teacher, pedantic, precise, not so much dead inside as numb. He has taught 18 years at the school as the lower fifth classics master. He was once a brilliant scholar and could see a wonderful career as a teacher. His wife, Millie (Jean Kent), has become a shrew. She had her ambitions, too, and they eroded in the face of the couple's incompatibility. Millie longs for passion, intensity and respect; Crocker-Harris can provide none. His view of love has been almost platonic. It is apparent their intimate life has been nonexistent for years. "I may have been a brilliant scholar," Crocker-Harris says at one point, "but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life." In this mix of frustration and deadened emotion is Frank Hunter (Nigel Patrick), the charming, smart upper fifth science master, a colleague of Crocker-Harris, who is cuckolding him.

The story takes place over two days at the end of term. Crocker-Harris is having to retire because of ill health. He'll be moving to a much smaller school, earning very little money, and is resigned to further failure.
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Format: DVD
Ill health and a general sense of failure attend the last few days on the job of British boy's school teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) in 1951's THE BROWNING VERSION.

There's more to it than that, of course. There's an evil and loathsome wife, Millie (Jean Kent,) for Crocker-Harris to disappoint and infuriate. There's a co-worker, played by Nigel Patrick, whose sincere offer of friendship occurs hard on the heels of a gross betrayal. There's a bright young lad, Taplow (Brian Smith,), who may be the `one in a million' student who cancels the quitclaim on failure. And of course there's Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist, whose Agamemnon, translated by Browning, tells the tragic tale of a king poisoned by his wife.

Okay, that's pretty elliptical, but I'm trying to not give anything away, even though I'm not sure the plot twists and resolutions are that terribly important here. THE BROWNING VERSION is driven by character rather than plot - it's the study of a man who began his career with great promise, a Mr. Chips in-waiting, who we meet at a withering juncture near the end of the path. When the movie joins him he's ending a phase, the vital phase, of his professional career, and his last few days are filled with culminating embarrassments and humiliations.

Ceding the material its due, and it's due a lot, THE BROWNING VERSION begins and ends for me with Redgrave's restrained performance. Crocker-Harris does not jump off the page as a terribly appealing character, and there's any number of ways an actor could botch it. Redgrave gets under the skin, though, and finds the universal in this distant and aloof character.

This being a Criterion release there are, of course, extras.
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