Starring: Maggie Smith, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin
Director: Ronald Neame
Running Time: 115 mins
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie is a British film about a domineering teacher at a conservative Scottish school who commands great loyalty from her students as she aims to lead them with her unique personal doctrines.
Not only is this a film with so, so much to say, but it’s also a film with surprisingly heartwarming depth, entertaining humour and likable performances. With a nuanced analysis of good and bad, conservative and progressive and the role of education, The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie is a thematically rich and utterly enthralling watch.
There’s a lot to say about this film, but it’s best to start with the woman at the centre of it all: Maggie Smith. Giving a fantastic performance that perfectly encapsulates all of the film’s focal themes, Smith is the iron-fisted teacher that we all remember from school, yet with an extra hold over her students.
In that, she’s not just a mean teacher, but one who is able to influence her pupils deeply, from academic pursuits to their individual morals. In fact, with Smith’s impressively assured performance, Miss Brodie doesn’t seem mean at all, but rather a determined yet deep down caring professional.
Of course, things aren’t quite as simple as that, as the film gives a striking exploration of her underlying motivations and responsibilities as a teacher, both in a positive and negative light.
There are parts of this story that would be so easy to paint in a simple, binary portrait of good and bad. Miss Brodie forges her own path beyond the conservative establishment of her school, she aims to give the young girls in her class confidence and well-rounded attributes for later in life, and she repeatedly affirms her commitment to teaching and education.
From that perspective, she seems like a hero. Yet when you look deeper, with her often hypocritical ideas, complex motivations and controversial beliefs, she’s a villain.
And that’s what makes this film so interesting. Miss Brodie is the focus of the story, yet she’s neither simply good nor bad, neither simply progressive nor conservative. She’s a complex and enthralling character that embodies the nuances of social divisions, and more importantly, the role of education.
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie has so much to say about the importance and influence of education. The film pits Miss Brodie’s philosophy of ‘leading’ students against the school’s more conservative focus on pure instruction.
However, while Miss Brodie’s pursuits may seem noble on the surface, her unrestrained influence on her students with controversial ideals makes that approach enormously flawed, which we see in the effects that she has on the girls of her class.
In tandem with a perspective on coming-of-age and challenging authority, The Prime Of Miss Brodie is a riveting juxtaposition of ideals and the stages of one’s life. While the girls are starting to come into their own as they stand up to authority, Miss Brodie – who claims to be ‘prime’ is increasingly desperate as she aims to hold onto what she has.
As you can see, then, this is a film with a lot to say about a wide range of riveting themes, and does so in gripping and thought-provoking depth.
It’s a nuanced perspective on ideology, education, growing up and more, and Maggie Smith perfectly embodies those themes in her leading performance. Bolstered by moments of complex yet heartwarming drama as well as surprising humour, The Prime Of Miss Brodie is a fantastic watch, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.2 overall.