Apparently Maggie Smith was first choice to do The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on stage in London. Scheduling conflicts interfered and Vanessa Redgrave was tapped and, before her six week run, was amenable to doing the movie version, until she too had conflicts with timings of other projects. According to director Ronald Neame, the more pertinent issue for Redgrave’s pull out was her growing disenchantment of Jean’s pro-fascist stances. For Smith, the second chance to have a crack at the part was both lucky break and trap: going full throttle on tics and tricks, she won the Oscar and has paid the price. In just about every role thereafter, she’s done variations of Jean, and a few times so shocking a rip-off—as in Travels with My Aunt—you’re close to saying “I’ve had it.” (Having seen her on the London stage doing Private Lives, I left the theatre mumbling something close.) But as the endless chatterbox inculcating her brood of girls, she’s an indelible impression, thrusting decaying romanticism on us with everything she’s got—a tour de force of artificiality. She self-certifies as a captivating show on a high-flown scale. We end up accepting her thru our own softened remembrances of school days past—we all think we had a teacher like her. Lots of enjoyment in some of the supporting cast not giving this ostentatious bitch one inch: Then-husband to Smith, Robert Stephens the adulterous failed artist; Pamela Franklin, in suspicious specs, does the assassin; and Celia Johnson, also in eyeglasses suggesting less than good motives, most striking in her last movie role. Jay Presson Allen adapting her play from the Muriel Spark novel.


Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.