Though it was released in 1969, director Ronald Neame and screenwriter Jay Presson Allen (who adapted the novel of the same name by Muriel Spark) crafted a story with a timeless feel in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Recently issued for the first time on Blu-ray (an edition strictly limited to 3,000 copies) by Twilight Time, this character study was ahead of its time then and still feels remarkably fresh 45 years later. Maggie Smith won an Oscar for her portrayal of the titular school teacher. Anyone primarily familiar with Smith from her roles in the Harry Potter movies or on Downton Abbey may be jolted by the sight of her as a relatively fresh-faced 35 year old. Her tragically misguided attempt to influence her preteen students at Scotland’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls makes for a subtly riveting drama.
As a teacher, Miss Brodie is, to put it mildly, lacking in objectivity. She promotes her pet causes (such as espousing support and sympathy for Francisco Franco) and favors her pet students above all. We squirm uncomfortably watching her impose her cockamamie ideas on her current batch of favorite junior-level girls, Sandy (Pamela Franklin), Monica (Shirley Steedman), Jenny (Diane Grayson), and Mary (Jane Carr). Neame draws remarkably natural performances from the girls, which is less surprising when considering they’re all young adult actresses portraying (at the story’s outset) 12-year-olds. The film covers a period of time during which they reach the cusp of adulthood, with each of the actresses offering a convincing transition.
Early on they discover a lot more about Miss Brodie’s personal life beyond her political views. She’s been carrying on with affairs involving two other teachers at the school: music director Mr. Lowther (Gordon Jackson) and art teacher Mr. Lloyd (Robert Stephens). The latter happens to be married, but he’s all too willing to act upon his feelings for certain underage students. In fact, it’s Miss Brodie herself who actively encourages a teacher-student affair, though it doesn’t work out quite as she envisioned. As the girls grow older, it becomes clearer why Miss Brodie is looked down upon by pretty much the school’s entire faculty. A final confrontation between Brodie and a brave individual who recognizes this teacher’s profoundly unhealthy influence offers a master class in subtle acting that has lost nothing with the passage of numerous decades.
Twilight Time offers a superb high definition presentation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Ted Moore’s cinematography appears to be inherently dull in color; a bright, vivid palette shouldn’t be expected. The generally subdued colors are consistent throughout and clarity is never problematic. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack is, as is typical of Twilight Time’s releases, essentially flawless.
In addition to a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix isolating Rod McKuen’s score, special features include a commentary by director Neame and actress Pamela Franklin. It’s a very revealing track that’s well worth the listen, one in which the participants offer far more than mere superficial observations. There’s also a pair of trailers for the film. The booklet includes Julie Kirgo’s newly-written liner notes.
To order the limited Blu-ray edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, visit Twilight Time’s distributor Screen Archives (while supplies last).