The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 1969 Based on the novel by Muriel Spark and the play by Jay Presson Allen. Directed by Ronald Neame. Jean Brodie is a romantic, libertarian teacher at a girls school in Edinburgh, Scotland. She devotes considerable energy to widening horizons of four precocious 12 year-old girls commonly known as the “Brodie Set.” The headmistress is jealous.
Brodie frequently takes the girls to visit music teacher, Gordon Lowther (Gordon Jackson), with whom she’s having a barely veiled affair. He wants to get married, but she still pines for married art teacher, Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens), who continues to pursue her. Years pass. A new group of girls comes under her thrall. She sets one up with Lloyd but another catches his eye. The second girl, enraged he’s still obsessed with Brodie, rationalizing her actions with the fallacy she’s protecting future students, brings about the teacher’s downfall.
“Little girls, I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the creme de la creme. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.” An excellent film. Cinemax on Trial or DVD purchase on Amazon
Travels With My Aunt 1972 Based on the Graham Green novel. Directed by George Cukor. Stodgy London bank manager Henry Pauling (Alex McCowen) notices a dramatically veiled woman at the back of his mother’s sparsely attended funeral. Claiming to be his aunt, Augusta Bertram (Maggie Smith), invites him back to her bohemian apartment where he ‘s startled to meet her African lover, Zachary Wordsworth (Louis Gossett Jr.) A package is received containing the severed finger of her great love, the man himself now ransomed for $100,00.
Art smuggling, a pretty American hippie, Paris, an ancient lover Augusta appeals to for money, failed blackmail, the regretful sale of a Modigliani portrait (of Augusta), Turkey, gangsters, betrayal, and one upmanship ensue as Henry loosens up and applies cleverness, surprising both Augusta and himself. Happy ending. A hoot. Enjoy. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Love and Pain and The Whole Damn Thing 1973. Directed by Alan J. Pakula. While on a bus tour of Spain, awkward, solitary Lila Fisher (Maggie Smith) meets equally shy asthmatic, Walter Elbertson (a fine Timothy Bottoms) who’s fled his bike tour for her bus. Thrown together, they’re at first uncomfortable, but recognizing like sensibilities and issues grow close, developing a bond. Wildly different backgrounds, disparity of age, and habitual fears of dishonesty and desertion plague them both.
Lila and Walter leave the tour. Striking out on their own they serendipitously meet a count who lives in a castle (of course). When he appears attracted to Lila, Walter suddenly finds himself jealous and, much to his shock, committed. Lila confesses she’s very ill. They decide to live out her days together. A gem. Netflix or purchase on Amazon
Quartet 2012 Based on the play by Ronald Harwood. Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut. With Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon. The cast alone makes this film worth watching, while Harwood’s intelligent, sensitive script acts as vertebrae. Beecham House is a retirement home for former professional musicians, patterned after the real-life Casa di Roposo per Musicisti founded by Giuseppe Verdi.
Temperamental opera singers/friends who reside at the home annually raise money at a gala which this year is paramount for Beecham’s survival. Down several vocalists and with one of them suffering from encroaching dementia, things don’t bode well. When a bristling ex-wife-also a singer- checks in, everything falls on her shoulders-should she deign to accept. Feuds and old loves surface. Immensely deft. Amazon Prime and Netflix
My Old Lady 2014 Written and directed (his debut) by Israel Horovitz. With Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott-Thomas, Dominique Pinon. A slight film that takes advantage of every Maggie Smith cliché, casting her as a stubborn, old woman with a colorful past and a still whip-smart mind. Broke and at loose ends, Mathias travels to Paris to sell an apartment inherited from his estranged father. He’s shocked to discover it’s a “viager,” legally occupied by Mathilde and her daughter, Chloé, until the old lady dies. Allowed to stay if he pays rent, the American sells off furniture he finds in unused rooms.
Mathile, it seems, had a long, secret affair with Mathias’ father. At first suspicious and prickly, he and Chloé bond, comparing difficult childhoods. It all comes out well in the end. Netflix and Amazon Prime
Lady in A Van 2015 Based on the memoir by Alan Bennett. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Featuring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings. The mostly true story of otherwise homeless Mary Shepherd, whose beat up van occupied Bennett’s driveway for 15 years, drawing him into her eccentricities and obstreperous needs. The writer discovers her intriguing past and conjectures what drove Mary to the life she leads based upon tragic events. Unwittingly, he grows to care. Beautifully made, little film. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Tea With the Dames 2018 Directed by Roger Michell. Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Eileen Atkins, and Dame Joan Plowright catch up and reminisce during a country weekend at Plowright’s pastoral home. Unscripted, the film is beautifully edited and rounded out with archival photos. These are some of the most celebrated actresses of their or perhaps any generation and have known each other a very long time. Delightful. Amazon Prime and Netflix
Top photo: Dame Maggie Smith as The Dowager Countess of Grantham and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in the film, Downton Abbey. (Credit : Jaap Buitendijk / © 2019 Focus Features, LLC) Read the review of the film, Downton Abbey. Available on Amazon Prime.
Amazon Prime has all of the episodes from the Downton Abbey TV series.