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Primed for Miss Jean

Posted at 4:37 PM on January 3, 2006 by Euan Kerr

I'm slightly ashamed to admit I'd never seen "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" until a few days ago, which is a monstrous oversight by a cinephile who lived in Edinburgh for many years. Maggie Smith's depiction of an unorthodox teacher in a conservative girls school the Scottish capital in the 1930's won her the best actress Oscar in 1969.

The film has held up well over the years. In fact it's strange to think it's almost 40 years old now. Miss Brodie surrounds herself with her 'set,' favored pupils who she attempts to fill with her ideas of grace and beauty. What is riveting about Smith's performance is how she makes you love her at the beginning of the film, but then she begins revealing Brodie's faults one by one until her feet of clay crumble and the tarnished idol crashes.

We also get a glimpse of a fine actor, Pamela Franklin, who plays Sandy, one of the Brodie set. She too goes through a transformation from a worshipping school girl to a determined, if not driven, young woman. We now have the benefit of history to wonder at how someone who displayed such great promise can so quickly fade into the twilight of the sitcom.

Seeing a film shot in a place you know well can bring about an unsettling teleporting experience, as you see people walk through an archway you recognize into, say, a street on the other side of town. It happens several times in "Prime." I had a similar experience over the holidays where I caught a few scenes from "Jingle All the Way," the very predictable family comedy Arnold Schwarzenegger made here in the Twin Cities. You get whiplash as he jumps all over downtown St Paul. There are times when the magic of the movies really doesn't work.

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