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Just like to add that the movie was based on a book by a turn of last
century feminist Australian writer called Ethel Florence Robertson who
wrote under the psedoymn of Henry Handel Richardson. She herself went
through a similar experience in her childhood due to her brash nature
and musical ability and also the death of her father at a young age.
Her sexual orientation and particularly her relation with an old school
friend was controversial. It's a funny little story and i think anyone
who has been in a situation where they had a different family or social
background will relate to it. Not a "wower" but it does give the
audience a sense of life going on despite all that people may do.
Just a bit of background information for all who would like to know
This film directed by Bruce Beresford is like the underbelly of fellow Australian Peter Weir's 1975 Picnic at Hanging Rock, also set in a turn of the century ladies college, but while Weir's title is all romantic lyricism, Beresford goes for lowbrow comedy. Beresford's out to show how schoolgirls are just as cruel as schoolboys by placing a fish-out-of-water into their "well-bred" environment. Of course, it's no surprise that the impoverished heroine Laura is far more civilised than the other girls. That is, until she learns that the "wisdom" to be got is being an opportunist. Pauline Kael put it best when she wrote "what she learns is the principle of contagion - that you get close to the powerful, so that their power can rub off on you, and stay clear of the helpless and weak, so their failure won't infect you". Such is the rewards of finishing schools. Beresford even gives us a freeze-frame close-up of Laura with over-bite begging for acceptance. He isn't interested in presenting these girls as beautiful or sensuous, and deliberately shows their facial pimples and awkward bodies. Even the suggestion of lesbianism in Laura's relationships with 2 girls are diffused by making one fat and expelled (for stealing from the others to buy a ring for Laura), and the other a rich older student, who cradles Laura in bed like a mother. The female staff are also grotesques - Sheila Helpmann as the schoolmistress wears an unwavering look of disdain, though when she drops it at Laura's graduation, we get a laugh, and Beresford undercuts the sight of floating black swans that Laura feeds by having them bleet loudly. The film works the best with Beresford's use of Laura's piano playing, when he edits to his comic routines, but he unfortunately indulges Barry Humphries as the school's minister in a long monologue where he denounces the thieving friend.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I was at High School we studied Henry Handel Richardson's novel
'The Getting of Wisdom' and also watched this film adaptation. There
was just something quite remarkable about this story to me then....and
re-watching it today - 30 years later!! - I still found it to be
Totally agree with another reviewer here, who suggests the parallels with Peter Wier's film 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' (Mirandaaaaaaaaaa....yep, that's the one....). Watching it today I was struck by just how much of a 'get real mate' reply Beresford is providing to the former. Quite apart from that:
What a relief to see an Australian film which does not pretend that the country is 'classless' - it wasn't then and it isn't now.
I loved the bitchy, chubby, spotty and insecure cast of teenagers, plus the perfectly hideous representatives of 'order' (the Headmistress, the just grotesque young vicar who the girls fantasize about, Barry Humphries' vicar....). It is rather like a 'Yeah right mate' to the soft focus girls lounging around at 'the Rock' isn't it?!
Also a relief to see an Australian film openly acknowledging what remains a stiflingly conservative culture, where the onus is very much about 'fitting in' with everyone else.
Watching it now, I was also struck by just how brave the representation of a possible lesbian relationship was for it's time. (1977) The beautiful Evelyn and the outcast Laura look like mirror images of each other - particularly in certain scenes. Considering Laura's considerable imagination (her 'story telling' or 'crams' are central to the narrative), I did wonder if she was in fact falling in love with an older, more confident version of herself? After all, Evelyn has the wealthy upper class background which has led to her complete self confidence. She really doesn't need to care what anyone else thinks of her, her standing is established (pardon the pun, part of the 'Establishment' )
If you see this on the television and you don't mind a bit of period drama, give it a go! The underlying edge here prevents this from being a 'good old days' nostalgia flick. This is not how the young 'gaaaals' behave in Picnic at Hanging Rock's 'Appleyard's Academy for Girls' , but you suspect that this bunch are much closer to the reality.
Witty, well acted and surprisingly subversive. So, good then? Yep.
Bruce Beresford's 1978 drama is a likable movie, one that is part of
the 12 DVD boxed set 'Australian Cinema Collection vol 1', that I
imported from Down Under and am working through. This is the 2nd disc.
Usually, period dramas and ones that feature boarding school girls, hold less interest for me and I wasn't necessarily looking forward to watching it. However, it rolled along nicely, with believable and unpretentious characters, both the girls and the staff. The dialogue was 'teenage-girly' and believable as was the rather stuffy infatuation with and study of the classics, which was the way of etiquette and all that, back in the 1880's. Their recital and devotion to learning it is both touching but also slightly pathetic, if you think that there were so many other things in the world for them to be taught.
Which is what it was all about, really. Class. How you couldn't step up the ladder and how your social circumstances dictate how you live and how others treat you. Aside of that, I found the puppy love crush on a handsome teacher by quite a few of the girls absolutely wonderful and so very normal!
The Getting of Wisdom is not really a film I'd probably watch again, at least not in a hurry. It's certainly not Australia's best film but a very satisfactory one.
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