This excellent tale of mediocrity and redemption features a fantastic performance by Michael Redgrave as a sort of anti-Mr. Chips
Andrew Crocker-Harris (Redgrave) has taught Latin and Greek to unappreciative lower-5th-form students at a posh English public school for the past 18 years. His classes are dry as dust and he is a stickler for discipline. Most of the boys hate him. His reputation is in stark contrast to the upper-5th-form science teacher Mr. Hunter who keeps his class laughing and enthusiastic through exciting experiments and banter. Mr. Hunter is having an affair with Crocker-Harris’s chronically dissatisfied wife Millie.
The story takes place over a couple of days at the end of term. Crocker-Harris has been suffering from a heart ailment and has resigned to take up a less stressful position at a less prestigious school in Northern England. The aurhtorities will not make an exception to the time-in-service rules to grant him his pension, though they have done so in the past for another teacher. Furthermore, Crocker-Harris is asked to give his farewell address before the speech of a very popular and much-junior football coach who is also leaving the school. The authorities want the speeches to “build to a climax.” He is reminded more than once that he was one of the most promising teachers ever hired by the school following his graduation from Oxford.
Crocker-Harris is having a very bad day and it keeps getting worse. His successor innocently informs him that he is known behind his back as Himmler. His wife takes special pleasure in being as hurtful as possible. He loses his composure more often perhaps than in the entire previous 18 years combined. Then a student gives him an unexpected going-away present and things begin to change. With Wilfred Hyde-White as the headmaster.
I love Michael Redgrave and this is undoubtedly his finest screen performance. He is absolutely brilliant at conveying emotion through a stoic exterior. The drama is compelling and deeply moving. Most highly recommended.
The Criterion DVD has an informative commentary by film historian Bruce Eder. He views the story through the lens of Terrence Rattigan’s homosexuality, seeing it as sort of a screed against heterosexual marriage. I didn’t see that aspect the first time through but it makes some sense given the way in which the plot is resolved. Much more important, however, is the character arc traced by Redgrave’s character.