Tuesday, February 12, 2013

For those that like that sort of thing . . .

. . . that is the sort of thing they like.  Or so says Miss Jean Brodie, teacher of impressionable girls in the novel by Muriel Spark.  This DVD 7 episode adaptation of the series from 1978 stars Geraldine McEwan as the feisty, unorthodox teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The story begins with Miss Brodie wearily instructing students at an all girls' school in Newcastle in the year 1930.  She has become increasingly disenchanted with her position, which she sees as a "custodial" one, keeping the girls busy until they are old enough to marry and become housewives, but not really being expected to actually teach them much. Fellow teachers whisper that her contract is not going to be renewed for the next year.  Her boyfriend, George Jenkins, accompanies her to cultural evenings, but can barely keep his eyes open during the "entertainment."  So Miss Brodie is thrilled when a friend tells her about an open position at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh.  As a native of Edinburgh, the idea of returning, and to a city of culture and learning, is almost too much to hope for.

After meeting the kindly headmistress and having a short interview, Miss Brodie is offered the position.  She seems more than willing to continue a long-distance relationship with George, but he is not so eager.  Miss Brodie arrives at her school and immediately makes an enemy of the dour Miss Gaunt, a fellow teacher who feels her Founder's Day speech to the students was "too theatrical". 

Miss Brodie throws herself into her new job, attempting to introduce her students to things that might not necessarily fit into the curriculum, such as art, philosophy and a great deal of personal narrative about her own life.  Her students quickly fall under her spell, especially her two favorite students, Sandy and Jenny, who are often taken on outings and invited to tea.

In fact, nearly as much screen time is given to Sandy and Jenny and their escapades as is given to Miss Brodie.  The girls are curious, especially about sex and how pregnancy occurs, and are determined to publish a thinly-veiled fictional account of Miss Brodie and her lost love, who died during the first World War. 

Something which was rather odd was Miss Brodie's fascination with Mussolini.  She had lived in Italy as the governess to a diplomatic family, and loved everything about the country, but it still seemed a bit odd that she should so fully embrace him and regale her students with admiring tales of how he was a modern day Caesar.  This attitude is questioned only by the Italian father of one of her students.  Other than that, her Mussolini poster is proudly displayed in her classroom next to famous artworks.  Of course, Miss Gaunt objects to the posters in general, but then again, she objects to pretty much everything!

I found the story to be charming, even if I did wonder what Miss Brodie's girls were actually learning.  Before she would launch into an extended personal narrative, she would instruct her students to open their "arithmetic books against intruders."  The DVD also includes a short feature on the author Muriel Spark and how she based the character of Miss Brodie on a teacher she herself had as a student at an Edinburgh girls' school. 

All in all, this is an enjoyable look at an inspiring, if somewhat unusual teacher who wanted to ignite her students' love of learning and open them up to a world of possibilities.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie from Acorn Media in exchange for this review.

Final Verdict for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Three Gherkins, for being a fond look at an inspirational teacher and her pupils


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