Maggie Smith’s tour-de-force performance as a school-teacher slipping into spinsterhood is one of several notable achievements in this sentimental and macabre personal tragedy.
Jay Presson Allen adapted her own play [based on a novel by Muriel Spark]. The story, set in 1930s Edinburgh, treats in a tenderly savage way the decline of an age-resisting school-marm who lives too vicariously through a select group of prodigy-stooges. The telling involves elements of warm humor, biting sarcasm, pity, contempt, betrayal, and despair.
Smith’s performance is a triumph. Other cast principals, all of whom project excellent performances, include Robert Stephens, the art teacher, Pamela Franklin, cast as a mysteriously-adult child and the eventual betrayor of Smith, and Gordon Jackson is impressive as the pitiable, gutless music teacher. Celia Johnson’s key adversary role as the school head-mistress comes off magnificently.
1969: Best Actress (Maggie Smith).
Nomination: Best Song (‘Jean’)