Michael Redgrave gives the performance of his career in Anthony Asquith's adaptation of Terence Rattigan's unforgettable play. Redgrave portrays Andrew Crocker-Harris, an embittered, middle-aged school master who begins to... more » feel his life has been a failure. Diminished by poor health, a crumbling marriage, and the derision of his pupils, the once brilliant scholar is compelled to reexamine his life when a young student offers an unexpected gesture of kindness. A heartbreaking story of remorse and atonement, The Browning Version is a classic of British realism and the winner of Best Actor and Best screenplay honors at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival.« less
Curtis Crawford | Charlottesville, VA United States | 09/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Terence Rattigan's screenplay for "The Browning Version" expands and greatly improves his short stage play of the same name. The title refers to a translation by the poet, Robert Browning, of "Agamemnon," a classical Greek tragedy. The film's protagonist, Andrew Crocker-Harris, an English private school teacher brilliantly played by Michael Redgrave, once wrote a translation of "Agamemnon," and has been trying for years to teach 14-year-old boys to read the Greek original. Because of poor health and general dissatisfaction with his performance, he has resigned his position. In the tragedy, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, aided by her lover. In the film, Crocker-Harris is spiritually dead, partly from spousal "murder," although the slaughter has been reciprocal, and his wife, Millie, is in worse shape than he. In tragedies, the hero starts out happy and becomes miserable. In this film, full of the sadness of professional and domestic failure, Crocker-Harris moves away from misery, via understanding and heartfelt repentance, to the possibility of happiness. The reversal owes much to the intervention of Taplow, one of Crocker-Harris' students, and of Frank Hunter, his colleague and Millie's lover. The film deftly introduces these "good Samaritans" in a lively dispute, in which they display the personal qualities that will make them helpful to Crocker-Harris. Both are spirited, bold, good-natured, intelligent and well-rounded. An interesting question is why they come to the rescue of Crocker-Harris and not of his wife. Her coarse brutality toward Crocker-Harris is hard to forgive, but so is his refined humiliation of students. At the outset, two huge defeats, heart disease and forced resignation, invite our compassion for him. His language, beautifully dressed, raised in pitch but never in volume, quiet, clear, restrained, invites attention and leaves room for helpers. Following Taplow's lead, we start the film wondering what is wrong, and hoping to fix it. But most important, Taplow and Hunter appreciate this man, who is really dying to be liked. They like him, and they don't like Millie. My only criticism of the screenplay is the audience response, at a school assembly, to Crocker-Harris' farewell speech. The reaction is not realistic, I think, given the school's long-established fear and rejection of this man. But it is surely our reaction, after what we have just experienced. At the Cannes Film Festival, Terence Rattigan was awarded Best Screenplay and Michael Redgrave, Best Actor. Emphatically deserved! The film is beautifully directed by Anthony Asquith, with a fine cast, especially Brian Smith as Taplow and Nigel Patrick as Hunter. (This review is based on the VHS edition.)"
Perhaps the finest movie I have ever seen -- a true classic
stephenthoren | Washington D.C. | 11/10/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I watched this movie many years ago on PBS simply by chance. I have since acquired my own copy and have watched it many times. The story and characters have remained with me ever since. Michael Redgrave gives a performance that is, quite simply, stunning. Redgrave plays an aging and depressed schoolmaster at an English boarding school who, despite a promising start as a teacher many years before, has now failed as a teacher and as a husband. His wife is a nightmare -- conniving, duplicitous and unfaithful. His tolerance of her maliciousness, and of his own failings, is touchingly played out in one heartrending scene after another. Into this malaise comes a young student who, unlike his fellow students, recognizes the brilliance and potential of the old schoolmaster. When he gives the old man the present of a book of poems by Browning, it reawakens a long lost spirit. If you see no other movie, see this one -- please. You'll never forget it. I never will."
Probably Redgrave's Greatest Screen Performance
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In a classroom of a British public school modeled on Harrow, students are waiting for their classics master, Andrew Crocker-Harris. "I don't think the Crock gets a kick out of anything," says Taplow, one of the students. "In fact, I don't think he has any feelings at all. He's just dead, that's all...He can't hate people and he can't like people. And what's more, he doesn't like people to like him. If he'd give me a chance, I think I'd quite like him." "What"" says another student. "Well, I feel sorry for him, which is more or less the same thing, isn't it?"
Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) is a middle-aged teacher, pedantic, precise, not so much dead inside as numb. He has taught 18 years at the school as the lower fifth classics master. He was once a brilliant scholar and could see a wonderful career as a teacher. His wife, Millie (Jean Kent), has become a shrew. She had her ambitions, too, and they eroded in the face of the couple's incompatibility. Millie longs for passion, intensity and respect; Crocker-Harris can provide none. His view of love has been almost platonic. It is apparent their intimate life has been nonexistent for years. "I may have been a brilliant scholar," Crocker-Harris says at one point, "but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life." In this mix of frustration and deadened emotion is Frank Hunter (Nigel Patrick), the charming, smart upper fifth science master, a colleague of Crocker-Harris, who is cuckolding him.
The story takes place over two days at the end of term. Crocker-Harris is having to retire because of ill health. He'll be moving to a much smaller school, earning very little money, and is resigned to further failure. No one is particularly sorry to see him go, including the avuncular head of school, Frobisher (Wilfred Hyde-White), as supple as a snake. Crocker-Harris has no illusions left about himself. He says to the new teacher who will replace him next term, "I did try very hard to communicate to the boys...some of my own joy in the great literature of the past. Of course, I...I failed. As you will fail nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine times out of a thousand. But a single success can atone, more than atone, for all the failures in the world. And sometimes, very rarely, it is true, I had that success. That, of course, was in the early years."
Things come to a head when Taplow makes a gesture of friendship to Crocker-Harris. He gives his teacher a used copy of a verse translation of the Agamemnon, the Robert Browning version. Crocker-Harris' dull shell nearly breaks. Millie takes the gratuitous opportunity to say that Taplow was merely trying to curry favor. Hunter, long looking for a way to break off with Millie, sees the cracks that have appeared in Crocker-Harris. He is appalled at Millie. He discovers a greater appreciation for what destroyed Crocker-Harris' humanity, but also for what Crocker-Harris might have been. And Crocker-Harris finally faces his own feelings when he addresses the school and the boys at the end of term ceremony. The last scene we see is of Crocker-Harris walking across the school grounds, reading anew a verse translation of Agamemnon he had begun years ago and thrown out. Taplow found it and has given it back. He tells Crocker-Harris how exciting he thought it was after reading it, that it was like a real play with real people. Crocker-Harris, we believe, is beginning to rediscover what it is to be a teacher and a human being.
If any word characterizes this movie, it is restraint, and in the very best sense. Redgrave gives a superb performance as the repressed, sad Crocker-Harris. Only slowly do we see what has happened to him. Even then, as we learn more about his failures as a teacher and a husband, as pity turns into sympathy, the movie is careful not to make Millie a complete termagant. In many ways, she has become as sad and desolate as her husband. Terence Rattigan, the playwright, and Anthony Asquith, the director, have constructed a seamless story of apparent personal failure which, nonetheless, builds to a satisfying emotional ending. Redgrave, however, is what makes it work. His performance really is extraordinary.
The Criterion DVD picture is in excellent shape. There are a couple of extras."
Heartrending & Timeless Achievement of One Man's Failure...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 07/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Distant and removed from the immediate environment is how one could illustrate Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) who is notorious as the Crock among the students at an English public school where he teaches the Classics. He is the archetype for a hated teacher, as he plagues his students with precise etiquette and dreary epigrams. In essence, he is a eloquent and subtle bully that oppresses his students whenever they fail. Like a cold reptile the Crock snaps at all available opportunities for him to be perceived as an authoritative source. This causes his students to become preoccupied with what is wrong rather than what is right, as they strive to avoid error instead of learning.
In the light of present educators, it should be noted that teachers should try to catch the students doing good, as it will promote a positive learning environment. It does not suggest that the teachers should turn a blind eye to harmful or negative behavior, as this can be detrimental to academic achievement for the students. Here in the Browning Version Anthony Asquith directs a very different film compared to his other accomplishments such as Pygmalion (1938) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). This film deals with failure rather than success. The failure of Mr. Crocker-Harris to fulfill his life calling to the potential and to be revered as a superior colleague and educator by both students and faculty.
Nonetheless, Asquith remains honest to what he does best by making adaptations of novels and plays. The Browning Version does not bring the flamboyant joyfulness that many of his other films do. Instead, he delivers a dark and emotional story, which is the result of a play that Asquith visited in the late 1940s. He felt that he needed to make the film, but struggled with financial backing. Eventually, the money came around and he could focus on directing a personal epigram through the character that Michael Redgrave so delicately performs in this memorable film. The film went on to win the awards both for best actor and screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952.
Asquith opens the story with an external perspective of Mr. Crocker-Harris who emerges with an authoritarian and humorless persona. He follows a rigid schedule, as the students even have their watches set after his. In many aspects, it seems like nothing is allowed to bother Mr. Crocker-Harris, as if he has already been put to rest. To strengthen this notion, his wife Millie (Jean Kent) says, "You can't hurt Andrew. He's dead." On top of this, the only thing that seems to provide some form of joy for him are the Classics of long ago fallen philosophers and scholars such as Socrates, Plato, and Aeschylus. Amidst all of this there is an overwhelming sense of gloom and lifelessness around Mr. Crocker-Harris who also has acquired severe health problems.
The film rubs on the surface of contempt and hatred while it slowly submerges into a personal tale. It is through Mr. Crocker-Harris's lifeless persona a remarkably tender story begins to brew. The surfacing true thoughts of him begin to unsettle his disciplined and razor sharp mind, as some even refer to him as the Himmler of the lower Fifth. One true notion follows by another, which begins to rupture the strong and cold front that he has put on to be perceived as a strong individual. Meanwhile, his wife is cheating on him with another younger and more dynamic teacher, as her contempt for him continually increases. It is emotionally torturous to watch this old man being struck with one setback after another despite his past.
The film discloses the failure of one man, which is something that Asquith was accustomed to on a personal level. Maybe, it is here where he discovered the emotional turmoil that he implemented in the film, as he grabs the audience over the throat with iron grip of melancholic sympathy. Asquith's father was a former Prime Minister and his mother, an eminent woman in high society. Thus, when their son became a film director, it must have been frowned upon with the notion of failure since their son had all the opportunities in the world. Failure, or not, Asquith and Mr. Crocker-Harris' lives could only be successes, if love were to be given to themselves through the small victories of self respect and personal forgiveness."
Brilliant play, superb interpretation
Steven Hellerstedt | 01/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ill health and a general sense of failure attend the last few days on the job of British boy's school teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) in 1951's THE BROWNING VERSION.
There's more to it than that, of course. There's an evil and loathsome wife, Millie (Jean Kent,) for Crocker-Harris to disappoint and infuriate. There's a co-worker, played by Nigel Patrick, whose sincere offer of friendship occurs hard on the heels of a gross betrayal. There's a bright young lad, Taplow (Brian Smith,), who may be the `one in a million' student who cancels the quitclaim on failure. And of course there's Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist, whose Agamemnon, translated by Browning, tells the tragic tale of a king poisoned by his wife.
Okay, that's pretty elliptical, but I'm trying to not give anything away, even though I'm not sure the plot twists and resolutions are that terribly important here. THE BROWNING VERSION is driven by character rather than plot - it's the study of a man who began his career with great promise, a Mr. Chips in-waiting, who we meet at a withering juncture near the end of the path. When the movie joins him he's ending a phase, the vital phase, of his professional career, and his last few days are filled with culminating embarrassments and humiliations.
Ceding the material its due, and it's due a lot, THE BROWNING VERSION begins and ends for me with Redgrave's restrained performance. Crocker-Harris does not jump off the page as a terribly appealing character, and there's any number of ways an actor could botch it. Redgrave gets under the skin, though, and finds the universal in this distant and aloof character.
This being a Criterion release there are, of course, extras. There's an eight-minute archival interview with Redgrave from the late `50s. Also included is an interview with director Mike Figgis, who speaks about the '51 original and also about his 1994 remake with Albert Finney. I have to admit I somewhat dread watching the remake, although Finney is a fine actor and Figgis seems sensitive to the material. What worries me is Figgis use of the term `open up' - as in `open up' Terence Rattigan's one-act play even more than the original did. Granted, the '51 version at times feels a little enclosed, but never stagy. In fact, the `closed' feeling, along with the older acting style Figgis mentions, give the movie an intimacy that a broader approach might destroy. At times Redgrave may feel a little precise, but he's playing an introverted character. This is a piece that is supposed to whisper and insinuate. We are meant to be drawn into Crocker-Harris's despair, not observe him from a shouting distance. Not having seen Figgis's version I can't, shouldn't, comment or complain about it, but the '51 version, directed by Anthony Asquith, is to my mind an ideal presentation. I can't believe this one can be improved upon.
The audio commentary is provided by film historian Bruce Eder, who does an admirable job of acquainting us with Rattigan, Asquith, and Redgrave. Like most scholarly commentaries he points out the significance of events that one misses the first time through a movie. Unfairly, very unfairly, I did find myself wishing he'd shut up, though. Not because he was droning on or anything, but because I played the commentary during my second run through the movie and I wanted to hear what the actors were saying. That doesn't happen to me often while watching with commentary track, and when it does it's usually a testament to the film being commented upon. A wonderful movie, with a sterling, unforgettable performance by Michael Redgrave. "