School was horrid. A tormenting place filled with sickening, vile beasts howling in the corridors, breaking down into pools of tears or lashing out in fits of rage. Deadset on making life as hellish as possible, and those were the staff members. Pupils had their sights set on either keeping a level head and not making a sound, or throwing their febrile mockery around like a rabid dog, frothing and foaming at the mouth and clamouring for any second of brief, fluttering attention. Those were the people that made the modern schooling system a real piece of dirty work, but The Browning Version is set in its egalitarian prose and rather snooty, snobbish ways.
Anthony Asquith presents this 50s drama piece, filled with sanctimonious characters who feel better than the rest, even when their immoral actions have horrid effects. Forced from his position as schoolmaster, Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) is hated by pupils, loathed by his wife, and belittled by the colleagues he shall soon depart. These revelations make themselves clear to Crocker-Harris, who grabs at the chance to re-evaluate his work. Redgrave’s performance is impeccable, a pompous man who carries himself with the weight of someone who has achieved more than reality would show. His taste of actuality shifts this character from loathsome figure to that of wounded hound, someone that wished to hit the highs but missed the few chances offered to him.
Jean Kent and Nigel Patrick provide ample support for Redgrave’s later-life crisis. Their meddling and relationship behind the back of Crocker-Harris makes for a marvellous, underlying storyline that will eventually crash into our leading man. Gossip is frowned upon, but the poorly-hidden affairs and disdain felt for Crocker-Harris are at the forefront of many characters throughout. Much of this contempt is found by those closest to this leading man. Spiralling from a quality and optimistic teacher into stalwart mediocrity, a flagging lifestyle of sudden, but expected failures. We’re left in the dark on what has caused this sudden rupture of quality, Redgrave’s performance muses on why his life comes apart at the seams rather well.
The Browning Version is a tremendous analysis of a man conducting himself as he is expected, but has been thrust the short straw each and every time. Redgrave presents a man of professional conviction and respect, but his personal life and real emotion is in the throes of real agony. Captured well by the grand direction from Asquith, and a plentiful number of superb performances, The Browning Report provides sympathy and understanding for a strict schoolteacher we may not feel anything but hatred for. Commanding the screen well with its sudden shot of sympathy, Redgrave’s masterful leading role brings about a convincing emotional range that holds all the powerful passions British filmmaking offered at this time.