Monday, 18 May 2009


“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” - Sydney J. Harris

The movie for this Movie Monday is a classic piece of British drama, Anthony Asquith’s 1951 film of Terence Ratigan’s play, “The Browning Version”. This is a dark and wonderfully acted piece of psychological drama, which more than 50 years after its making still looks fresh and has the power to involve, engage and move the viewer.

The plot centres on Andrew Crocker-Harris (AKA “The Crock” to his students), a stuffy professor of Classical Greek at an English public (i.e. private) school. He is greatly disliked by his students and his fellow teachers and when he retires because of poor health he is denied a deserved pension by the stingy headmaster. To make matters worse his younger wife who is a social climber cheats on him with a younger professor. Although Crocker-Harris began his career eighteen years earlier as a brilliant young scholar, he has been buried by the stiff rigidity of school rules and regimentation and has made himself cold and distant from all human emotion. While his future seems to be financially ruinous and his marriage has failed, the kindness of one of his students rekindles his humanity.

Central to the film is Aeschylus’ tragedy of Agamemnon whose wife Clytaemnestra is cheating on him while he is away fighting in the Trojan War. On his return, the wife and her lover Aegisthus murder Agamemnon in his bath. The play not only mirrors Crocker-Harris’s life, but is also pivotal to the story. The title relates to the Browning translation of the “Agamemnon”.

The acting in this film is superb with Michael Redgrave giving a great performance as Crocker-Harris. Jean Kent as his duplicitous and shrewish wife supports him admirably. Nigel Patrick as the lover and Crock-Harris’s colleague is good, as is the young Brian Smith, playing the likeable young student, Taplow. The starring role won Michael Redgrave best actor in that year’s Cannes festival and the film also won best screenplay there. Ratigan who wrote the screenplay adapted it from his own play and the transfer from stage to film has been done eloquently and with a good understanding of the medium. As Ratigan was a homosexual it is easy to read a subtext into the movie, but the film works well even without such a subtlety.

It is quite a moving film, but not in the standard “tear-jerker” fashion of “Goodbye Mr Chips”. There is a raw energy in the film and a biting candour that grips the viewer as the layers are removed from the characters. In the end when their souls have been laid bare, one cannot but identify in turn with the tragedy in each of them. This is definitely a great film to watch, but be warned, it’s quite challenging viewing!

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written review. Makes me want to see it.