The Browning Version (1951)

“I am sorry because I have failed to give you what you had the right to demand of me as your teacher: sympathy, encouragement and humanity.” A devastating portrait of failure, The Browning Version features a brilliant performance by Michael Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes) as “Andrew Crocker-Harris,” an uninspiring, repressed and emotionless classics schoolmaster at a British prep school whose well-structured life is falling apart (he had been a brilliant scholar in his youth). In many ways, the “Old Crock” is the antithesis of “Mr. Chips.” Nearly universally hated by his students (his nickname is “The Himmler of the Lower Fifth” for his strict disciplinarian ways), Crocker-Harris is being forced into retirement (without a pension!) due to poor health and he’s taking a lower paying job out in the country. To make matters worse, the hapless teacher is married to “Millie” (Jean Kent), one of the most ruthless bitches in film history, who is carrying on a rather open affair with one of the Crock’s colleagues, science teacher “Frank Hunter” (Nigel Patrick). She’s a total ball buster who would make the “Big Nurse” from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest proud. However, when a precocious student named “Taplow” (Brian Smith) gives the Crock an unexpected gift – Robert Browning’s version of the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus (inscribed with a Greek phrase that translates to “God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master”) – he is forced to reexamine his life. Directed by Anthony Asquith, The Browning Version was based on Terence Rattigan’s 1948 play of the same name (Rattigan himself wrote the screenplay). Wilfrid Hyde-White is excellent as the rather phony “Headmaster.” Director Mike Figgis remade the film in 1994 with a cast that included Albert Finney, Greta Scacchi, Matthew Modine and Julian Sands.

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