My City #3

Ronald Neame’s very lovely film of Muriel Spark’s THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE is actually one of relatively few major movies to prominently feature Edinburgh locations. TRAINSPOTTING was shot mainly in Glasgow, so apart from the opening sequence you don’t get to enjoy sunny Leith and its slums. A shame, because there’s a subtle difference in style of bad area from one city to another, although the social problems don’t vary that much.

The Neame film is another kettle of fish: while there’s certainly a dark side to it, the surroundings are more on the charming, “genteel” side, which is in keeping with the reputation Edinburgh inexplicably has. Also inexplicable: the fact that so few films come here when you can still achieve a shot like the one above: just say “1932” or whatever and choose your angle carefully and you can pretend it’s any period you like. The distance from London and the lack of studio facilities are the only two explanations possible, but they seem inadequate to account for Edinburgh’s cinematic neglect.

Maggie Smith’s accent, or “eccent,” which she’s still getting good mileage out of in HARRY POTTER, and which others, such as John Hurt in ROB ROY, have taken off the peg and deployed from time to time, doesn’t correspond to any accent I’ve ever actually encountered in my life. But it seems to have some kind of historical existence as a mode of speech favoured by the blue-rinsed old ladies of Morningside, who would have been schoolgirls in 1932, so I guess it’s authentic.

And it has given rise to the following “joke”. Not quite sure it’ll work in print though, unless you read it aloud and do the voice.

A schoolteacher in Morningside addresses her class: “Cless, I em going to name some cepital cities, and I want you to tell me which countries they ere in. Peris.”

“Frence,” chant the class.


“Spain,” chant the class.


And they all get up.

Think I can probably squeeze a few more posts out of this movie’s scenery. US buyers can get the DVD here:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie


31 Responses to “My City #3”

  1. the joke does work in print. Nice.

  2. the lady in the plaid cape looks like she might actually be a cloaked and hatted broomhandle. does she turn round or move at any point?

  3. Yes, she’s Maggie Smith! It’s the kind of film, mainly studio interiors with a few locations, where one does look for evidence of stand-ins and second unit, but it does seem as if all the principal adult players and the young girls came up here and shot for a few days at least. The reverse angle shows Maggie Smith on the Vennel steps leading to the Art College.

  4. I saw it onstage with Zoe Caldwell and (wait for it) Amy Taubin.

    Amy was quite good.

    Mr. Neame is nearing the century mark and has fond memories of directing the great Maggie Smith.

  5. I’m not sure I noticed Edinburgh at all after seeing Pamela Franklin.

  6. Some people have found Dame Maggie hard work — she apparently takes things very seriously and so on — but that’s admirable, really. Her performance in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is simply devastating.

    Ah, Perky Pam! I’ll watch pretty much anything with her. In fact, I watched The Night of the Following Day, which is possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen, so it’s confirmed: anything with Pam. Been meaning to listen to the Ron & Pam commentary track on the disc.

  7. Well of course she’s ‘hard work” SHE IS A GODDESS!!!!

  8. Did you hate Night of the Following Day that much? I quite enjoyed it though I may have bought into the cult of Hubert Cornfeld slightly too much. Also because the only thing better than a good Brando performance is a terrible Brando performance.

  9. And often one can’t tell one from the other, eg. Reflections in a Golden Eye.

    I do like Brando as a blonde.

  10. He makes a fine blonde nazi in The Young Lions.

    Took me about ten minutes to work out a single thing he was saying in Reflections. He was rather unreliable when it came to accents. There are some actors who can do them, and others who can’t, and still others who can do them but lose whatever is fresh and convincing in their performances when they do. Brando veers between all three modes, but mainly the latter two.

    I think it was the it-was-all-a-dream ending of Night OTFD which convinced me I’d utterly wasted my time.

  11. David E., I recently saw Amy Taubin making an acting appearance in the Her Name Was Ellie, His Name Was Lyle, which the BFI released in their Joy of Sex Education set of films!

  12. I think tha lower picture is taken from Brown’s Square looking though and over the grassmarket up to the Castle. Small point of typography.

    I’d now like to see this very much as I love seeing pictueres of Edinburgh in ‘olden times’.

  13. Really colinr? Her most famous movie to date is of course Michael Snow’s Wavelength. On stage I also recall her in Richard Foreman’s very first play Angel.

    (A personal note: She has always despised me.)

  14. Mary, I think you’re perhaps right, but the reverse angle places them on the steps. If so, it’s an effective cheat, a piece of Kuleshov-style imaginary geography.

  15. I’m afraid I couldn’t find any footage up from the film around, but I did do write ups of all the films on the Sex Education set at the including that one at the beginning of last year at the criterion forum when I had a lot more free time:

    Taubin doesn’t play Ellie or Lyle but the girlfriend of a chap called Bruce who after shacking up with Ellie finds out that he has contracted VD and might have passed it on to her. The write up of the film in the booklet suggests that Taubin didn’t seem particularly proud of the work (made in the same year as Wavelength), but she’s definitely in it!

    It is the one non-British film on the set, so a strange inclusion, but a very welcome one! (One of the other highlights of the sex is an army propaganda cartoon created by the Halas and Batchelor Films, later the animators of the 50s version of Animal Farm)

  16. That should be ‘highlights of the set’ – darn this dirty mind of mine!

  17. Christopher Says:

    saw “miss brodie” first run as a kid on the airplane ,probably from Sydney to Honolulu..later worked on a production of it in the early 80s with TV’s Elinore Donahue as Miss Brodie..
    Speaking of Edinburgh,I watched The Flesh and the Fiends a couple of nights ago and wow!..That film don’t deserve a silly Title like that..It was a piece of work!

  18. Yes, The Flesh and the Fiends is one of the most authentic accounts of the Burke and Hare case, as well as one of the most effective. Even gets away with stealing footage from Lean’s Oliver Twist (wrong period, wrong city!) and surrounding Billie Whitelaw with topless pin-up girls (did they all wait until she wasn’t looking? It seems that way!). Terrific performances and the air of nastiness for once seems relevant to the sense of period.

  19. Taubin in sex film shock!

  20. Old Edinburgh:

  21. Again, unchanged today!

  22. AnneBillson Says:

    Have fond memories of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie because it was the first X-certificate film I ever saw. Plus I had huge girlcrush on Pamela Franklin and she has a nude scene in it – which I assume is the only reason for the X-certificate. I always wanted a schoolfriend like Sandy.

  23. Fee here – GirlCrush on Pamela Franklin? I still do!

  24. The excellent film blogger and filmmaker Dan Salitt ( is a big Pam fan too. Considering that her grown-up career didn’t last very long, she packed in a lot of good or great movies!

  25. Totally agree – even if we discount The Innocents, At Soon The Darkness and The Legend of Hell House are great spooky movies. I don’t even mind Hell House being a thinly veiled take on The Haunting – it is good enough to hold its own and I remember slightly preferring it as a kid for McDowall’s performance and the greater emphasis on ghost hunting technology than in the Wise film!

    It certainly is far better than the awful official 90s remake!…and Pamela Franklin is far sexier than Catherine Zeta Jones!

  26. The sudden appearance of the big magnetic degaussing machine that can erase ghosts was a bit much for me, but apart from that I found LOHH pretty compelling and scary. Almost certainly the erratic John Hough’s best film, although I have a soft spot for Watcher in the Woods.

    The Haunting is clearly way superior in film-making terms, but there’s nothing shabby about the cheap UK knock-off.

  27. And a “creche” is a collision between two cars in Morningside.

  28. Christopher Says:

    you know you’re in Edinbrugh in The 39 Steps ,when the train pulls into the station and you hear the (speak a de english)paper boy hawking “Cigreets!..Peeper!

  29. That’s quite an eccentric accent he’s got there! Never quite heard anything like it…

  30. I finally saw this on the plane from London to Beijing last April and it was such a joy, must get a copy to watch properly :)

  31. The US DVD is very nice, with commentary by director and Pam. Did you have a girl-crush on her too?

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