The Corn is Green 1979
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Miss Moffat, an Englishwoman who relocates to an early 1900s mining community, is astonished to see children working in the mines. “After one week,” a townsman observes, “they are old men.” She resolves to make the children – and especially one prize pupil – something else: scholars.
Katharine Hepburn stars in director George Cukor’s exquisite version of Emlyn Williams’ beloved play. This 10th and final Hepburn/Cukor collaboration met initial reluctance when its star was first approached. But Hepburn found the script’s message of hope irresistible. “Everybody now talks about the impossibility of life,” she said. “This is all about the possibility.” With Hepburn in the lead, this masterful, touching film graduates with honors.
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Hot Toasty Rag, November 13, 2017
If you’ve seen the 1945 version of The Corn is Green, you haven’t really seen it in its full potential. Bette Davis can play a spinster extremely well, but she can’t get enthused like Katharine Hepburn can. In Emlyn Williams’s story, a strong woman sets up a school in a Welsh mining town. She finds potential in one particular young boy and hopes an education will give him a chance at a different life. When Katharine Hepburn encourages her student, she raises her fists in the air and grins triumphantly. It’s a much more understandable interpretation of her character; the woman obviously has passion enough to educate lost-cause mining children, so she should show her passion in her delivery and mannerisms. Kate was nominated for an Emmy that year, but was ironically beat out by Bette Davis for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and a Daughter.
In his first film, Ian Saynor gives a wonderfully emotive performance as the conflicted student. From start to finish, the audience sees his growth and maturity, and we learn to put as much faith and hope in his character as Kate does.
While David Walker’s costumes are beautiful, John Barry’s music cheapens the quality of the film, making it obvious that it was made for television. If you can get past the soundtrack, though, you’re in for a very well-acted and interesting story.
The story begins with Miss Moffat inheriting a house in a Welsh mining town. A retired English officer is expected, since her initials "L.C." are taken to mean "Leftenant Colonel," but instead a spinster schoolteachers arrives (unlike Davis, Hepburn is actually older than her character). She finds the miners living in squalor and ignorance, and is determined to open a school to teach not only the children but also anybody from the village that is interested in learning. Aiding her in the effort are a strong supporting cast consisting of Mrs. Watty (Patricia Hays), a reformed "light fingers," the young spinster Miss Ronberry (Anna Massey), and John Goronwy Jones (Artro Morris), who looks after the house. Resistant to the idea of a school is the local Squire (Bill Fraser), while young Bessie Watty (Toyah Wilcox) resents having been dragged from the big city to this particular piece of geography.
In overcoming her obstacles, Miss Moffat discovers Morgan Evans (Ian Saynor, in his first role), a young man with a brilliant mind who works in the coalmines. In an essay he writes about being in the mines underneath the fields where "the corn is green." Morgan becomes her prize pupil, and Miss Moffat pushes him to try for a scholarship at Oxford. Unfortunately the pressures of everyone's expectations makes the boy snap and he has an unfortunate affair with Bessie that will require an additional sacrifice on the part of his teacher in order for them to realize their dream. But when he returns from Oxford and has seen what is out there, he refuses to be sent back to the life he knew in the mines.
Hepburn received her third Emmy nomination (she won for "Love Among the Ruins"), and the rest of the performances provide her with an array of characters to play off of. The stage play is adapted by Ivan Davis, however, the credit goes to Williams for not only capturing the character of the Welsh, who are usually ignored when it comes to films about the United Kingdom, but also for providing a classic example of a teacher-student relationship. Throughout his ordeal Morgan often wonders why this strange woman is pushing him to learn Greek and read Thomas Aquinas, and then there comes the point where he tells her that now they can talk. She answers, "Yes," and in that simply exchange the ideal of education is encapsulated. This is the sort of film I like to watch before the school year starts each year to remind myself why I do what I do for a living. I saw this television version before the theatrical film, but both show how the story can work regardless of whether the actress is ostensibly too young or too old to essay the part, which also speaks to the universality of the lesson.