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The Killing of Sister George

In preparation of a list of gay movies I am shortly circulating I watched last night the DVD of the Robert Aldrich adaptation of the Frank Marcus’ play. At first blush, it was strange that the director of The Dirty Dozen should sell his stake in that film to finance his own studio to make this film although there are certain similarities with his other well-known movie Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.   

A play is necessarily static on location and much of the film takes place in the flat of George. Sensibly he cast Beryl Reed who was in the play and she gives a virtuoso performance as the kindly nurse in the Archers’ style running soap and the cantankerous boozy Miss Buckridge who plays the role. It’s always been a mystery how the play, with its central lesbian relationship between George  and Alice McNaught ( Susanna York), avoided the Lord Chamberlain – that strange creature who once censored London theatres. It might be because that at no stage is the word lesbian used. The film is more daring with a long kiss between Coral Brown as the BBC big wig who tells George she is to be written out and the ingenue who is not as hapless as she embraces Alice.

The great triumph of Beryl Reed’s acting is she plays the role of someone who is unsympathetic as she is domineering to the point of sadistic in her relationships, a drunk, abusive, frumpy old bag and makes us sorry for her. It’s also a brilliantly funny work lampooning country soaps in much the same way as Tony Hancock did with the Bowmans when he too was written out. Frank Marcus, who was a Hungarian, shows a great insight into British values and customs.

Unlike Entertaining Mr Sloan, which had too an unusual director William Friedkin of The Exorcist, it had not dated. You don’t see mobile phones or receive emails but that leads to some direct personal confrontations which are dramatic. Unlike the play Aldrich did hit some problems with the censor but compared to say Blue Is The Warmest Colour it’s pretty tame stuff. I preferred the play but this is worthy of my list,

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts