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In rural 1840's Scotland, Gavin Dishart arrives to become the new "little minister" of Thrums's Auld Licht church. He meets a mysterious young gypsy girl in the dens and to his horror Babbie draws him into her escape from the soldiers after she incites a Luddite riot. But unknown to Gavin, Babbie is more than she seems. And they must overcome her secret, the villagers' fears of her, and worst of all, Gavin's devotion to his mother's sensibilities, before they can openly declare their love. Written by
Very rarely was Katharine Hepburn cast as the Scot she was by descent. Our most popular image of her was with that clipped Bryn Mawr accent, cool, elegant, and sophisticated. She only played two Scots in her life Queen Mary Stuart who if truth be told was more French than Scots and the gypsy waif in The Little Minister.
This was certainly an unusual project for Kate requiring her to adapt a Scottish burr to her speech. She also plays the mysterious gypsy girl who stirs the elders of that Presbyterian congregation more than they realize. She certainly stirs the new minister in town, John Beal who's come to live there with his mother Beryl Mercer.
In an odd way Kate's character of Babbe is like the ditzy heiress in Bringing Up Baby, wreaking havoc wherever she goes, but charming Cary Grant as she does John Beal here. If James M. Barrie had twisted the plot in a Somerset Maugham direction, Kate's Babbe could easily have been a Scottish Sadie Thompson. Turn that one over in your mind.
But she's a lot more than she seems as Beal and the rest eventually find out. Beal does well as the earnest young man in his first parish, trying hard to do the right thing, but hormones just seem to be getting in the way. They'll do that. Good thing Kate was not a Sadie Thompson character.
The Little Minister is based on a novel by James M. Barrie about an unfamiliar time for Americans. I'm sure the film did well in the British Isles for RKO where they would have been more familiar with the history and mores of the time. Still it's an unusual part for Katharine Hepburn, her devoted fans would be the first to agree.
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