Sunday 5 May 2024

Movie Review: The Children's Hour (1961)

Genre: Drama  
Director: William Wyler  
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Fay Bainter, Miriam Hopkins  
Running Time: 107 minutes  

Synopsis: Best friends since age 17, teachers Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) now run a private boarding school for girls. Martha has always harboured a secret crush on Karen, and resents her friend's impending marriage to Doctor Joe Cardin (James Garner). Martha's aunt Lily (Miriam Hopkins) and troublesome student Mary (Karen Balkin) both have reasons to gossip about the relationship between Karen and Martha, and Mary's grandmother Amelia (Fay Bainter) expertly spreads the harmful rumours. 

What Works Well: Lilian Hellman co-wrote the script based on her own play (inspired by actual events), and William Wyler directs with an unflinching commitment to the darkest corners of the human soul. Karen loves Joe and Martha loves Karen, but their good intentions are easily victimized by malevolence. Negativity invades the school sanctuary through the evil Mary (one of the screen's nastiest children); the selfish Aunt Lily (still delusional about a stage career); and the influential grandma Amelia (wielding community power like a judge and jury). The final act displays the fearsome destructive capacity of group think when combined with prejudice.

What Does Not Work As Well: The theatrical origins are clear, and translate to a limited number of sets, longish scenes, and unconstrained performances, with Audrey Hepburn alone in maintaining a measure of control.

Conclusion: Hatred thrives in empty chambers.

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