Yes, I’ll soon be back to school after about four months and a half of vacations (well, not complete vacations as I was also working). Anyway, back to the routine, the lectures, the work, etc. Luckily, university starts late and ends early, so I’m not starting until September 6. And fortunately, as I’m studying cinema, I’ll also be watching many movies in class just the way I like to do it at home.
To celebrate the return of classes, Robin from Pop Culture Reverie has decided to host the Back-to-School Blogathon. Of course, for someone who is still studying, this is quite an appealing event as it allows me to already be in the “mood” for it. As for those who have already finished school (a long or short time ago), I guess it will bring back some memories, good ones I hope. You see, school movies are ones that can reach many people, but, unfortunately, it’s not everybody in the world who has the chance to have a fair access to studies.
School is a very general word that can include many levels of studies. After all, we all start going to school when we are about 5 and we can sort of finish quite late if we decide to do a Ph.D. Anyway, school is an important part of life and has an immense influence on our future. For this blogathon, I’ve decided to travel to a public boarding school in England and discuss The Browning Version, an Anthony Asquith movie released in 1951. The film stars Michael Redgrave, Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick, Ronald Howard and Wilfrid Hyde-White. It was based on a play by Terence Rattigan who also wrote the screenplay for the on-screen adaptation.
The Browning Version can be called a masterpiece and is even part of the Criterion Collection. However, it seems that it doesn’t have the popularity and the recognition it totally deserves. When you think of “school movies” it’s not the first one that comes to peoples’ mind.
The Browning Version focuses on the last days of Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave), a classic studies teacher, in an English public school for men (boys). Due to his health problems, he is to be transferred to another school where the responsibilities are less exhausting. Young Mr. Gilbert (Ronald Howard) is to be is successor. But those last days are difficult as “the Crock”, as he is called, begins to realise that, during all his 18 years of teaching at this school, he wasn’t only not liked, but positively disliked by his students. His wedding is also a failure and his economic position is not announced to be good after his transfer at the new school. To his students, Mr. Crocker-Harris is a boring teacher with no emotions and no recognition. However, one of them, Taplow (Brian Smith), seizes the sensibility that is hidden in this man and believes that he is, after all, not such a bad person, but only a lonely one.
We need more people like this little boy in our world. The Browning Version indeed makes us understand that we can’t really judge a person before really knowing her. After all, what do we really know about our teachers? I mean, in their life out of school? Taplow is the only student of Mr. Crocker-Harris’s class to have witnessed more of his life at home as he sometimes goes to his place for extra work. He is a sensible little boy who sees behind the first image projected by someone. Indeed, it shows us that someone might not always express what he really feels. After all, we are all different.
But in a way, it’s normal not to like all our teachers. And that can be so for many different reasons: a boring teacher, a teacher with whom you learned nothing, a teacher who has humiliated you, a teacher who is incomprehensible, etc. It can be the most wonderful profession as you get to know different young souls and transmit your knowledge to them. But it can also be a hard task if you add the different challenges and if you have a lack of motivation. Ok, I’m talking as if I were a teacher, but I’m not. I’m only writing this according to my good judgement.
Mr. Crooked-Harris has the motivation. It’s clear to us that he is passionate by what he’s teaching. The only problem is that he doesn’t success to transmit this love of classic studies to his student in the right way. Has many of them suggest, he seems to have no emotion, but we’ll discover, thanks to Taplow, that sensibility is hidden in him.
Michael Redgrave gives a brilliant performance in a role that was meant to be difficult. In an interview, available on the Criterion DVD, the actor indeed explains that he likes to choose roles that don’t have an easy approach. I think that the challenge here was to play a man who first seems neutral, but who is in reality, highly tormented. It’s a role that makes us forget the sympathetic Gilbert from The Lady Vanishes or the refined Ernest from The Importance of Being Earnest, but in a good way. It simply proves us that Michael Redgrave was capable of playing many different kinds of roles. At the 1951 Cannes Film Festival, the British actor won the Best Actor Award for his performance as Andrew Crocker-Harris.
Margaret Lockwood, who had previously starred in The Lady Vanishes and The Stars Look Down alongside Redgrave, was first considered for the role of Millie, Mr. Crocker-Harris’s wife, but the role went to Jean Kent. I’m sure Margaret would have been great too, but Mrs. Kent seems to have been meant for this role. With her ravaging beauty, she was perfectly able to play the seducing and passionate bad girls and she proves it right. The opposition between her character and Michael Redgrave’s is fascinating, just like the way she will behave in society versus how she’ll behave when she is alone with her husband. Those situations seem to create two completely different women and Jean Kent was able to adapt herself to both of them like a chameleon.
The role of Frank Hunter, Andrew’s fellow schoolmaster, was given to Nigel Patrick, an actor I didn’t really know, but who turns out to be quite intriguing. Brian Smith plays the little Taplow and his devotion as a young actor makes us having high hopes for him. The Headmaster was played by Wilfrid Hyde-White, who is great and appreciable without stealing the show from Redgrave. Finally, Ronald Howard (who was Leslie Howard’s son – I didn’t know that) plays the role of Crooked-Harris successor. His acting game is very simple, but convincing, and he gives to his character a beautiful humility.
At the 1951’s film Cannes Film Festival, The Browning Version also won the Best Screenplay Award and was also nominated for the Golden Palm. The script was indeed brilliant has it creates a justifiable evolution of the story and its characters. It helps us to understand the motivations and certain actions. The Crock’s vulnerability touches us as it touches Taplow. As a matter of fact, Taplow is the eyes of the spectator and, the more we are watching the film, the more we begin to understand Crocker-Harris just like Taplow does. The film also contains some well-thought lines who makes us reflect upon the situation, one of them being:
Andrew Crocker-Harris: I may have been a brilliant scholar, but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life.
And of course, there is the final speech, a moment of emotion that I won’t reveal to you in case you haven’t seen the film yet.
For those who wonder, the movie title refers to English poet, Robert Browning’s translation of the Greek tragedy Agamemnon, which plays an important role in the film.
Aside from his Cannes Festival wins and nominations, The Browning Version also won the Bronze Berlin Bear (drama) and the Small Bronze Plate at the Berlin International Film Festival.
It’s no surprise that the film won those international Awards, not only because it’s a clever one, but also because it’s one that can reach everybody across the world. It is English, yes, and we feel the British world and culture, but it’s a story that could happen everywhere at any time.
In 1994, a remake of the film was made with Albert Finney in the leading role. The movie was also nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, which proves that it is, after all, probably not a bad remake. But I still have to see it.
I would like to thank Robin from Pop Culture Reverie for hosting this wonderful blogathon, which was a good opportunity for me to go back in the “school” mood after such long summer vacations.
To read the other lovely entries, please click here.