The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (Macmillian, 1961)
No matter that Miss Brodie is sometimes controlling and an insufferable snob. Windows opened more than six inches are vulgar. Rolled up sleeves on girls are common crudely suggesting washerwomen about to set about their work. No matter that she manipulates her girls, tortures them emotionally, segregates them by characteristics that she admires or envies. Sandy (Pamela Franklin), who will eventually become Miss Brodie’s betrayer is "full of insight" and a perfect "spy". Jenny (Diane Grayson) who will be “famous” for sex and Miss Brodie hopes will become the future lover of one of her own lovers. Mary (Jane Carr) is pitifully dim-witted and will, of course, die tragically. Monica (Shirley Steedman) is famous for her "anger", her passion.
Spark comically highlights the dangers of charisma and passion (an essence of the allure of Fascism in the 1930's - when even high ranking politicians and British royalty in the West saw Hitler and Mussolini as bulwarks against the creeping "evil" of Communism) manifested in the person of Miss Brodie. Her attraction to power and "beauty" overtake the desire for the common good, overtake common sense, at times.
The director clothes the seductive Smith in vibrant sensual colours illustrating her passionate nature - vibrant reds, lush purples, vivid pinks and oranges - and she starkly stands apart from the other dour, grey-clad school mistresses particularly the unfortunately named Miss Gaunt who does the malicious bidding of the headmistress Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson).
|The magnificent Maggie Smith|
It is a more satisfying denouement in the film when Sandy openly confronts Miss Brodie and tells her both that she is Teddy Lloyd's lover (not Jenny as Miss Brodie had perversely hoped) and the one who betrayed her to the head mistress. It is clearer in the film that Miss Brodie is perceived as a dangerous influence and yet Smith's performance is so nuanced and carefully constructed that we can do little more than despise the beady-eyed Sandy when she destroys her teacher's future.
|Muriel in her prime|