Review: “Georgy Girl” Is No Feminist Statement
By Mark Fraser
Viewed with a proverbial pinch of salt, Silvio Narizzano’s Georgy Girl (1966) is what UK-based media commentator Leanne Weston aptly calls “a comedy of manners turned social critique set amidst the backdrop of ‘Swinging London’”.
It is also, Weston adds in her 2018 essay on the film, “about a world and a girl in transition”, in which the titular character Georgina “Georgy” Parkin (Lynn Redgrave) is portrayed at different times as either “an object of inspiration, affection or ridicule”.
More to the point, though, she is also seen as an object of desire, and it’s this treatment of the protagonist that gives the film’s narrative a sinister undertone as it pretends – in line with The Seekers’ song on which it is partly based – to be a tale about liberation and individualism when in fact, behind its genial facade, it is really one concerning incarceration and servitude.
Or, to put it another way, there’s quite a bit of unpleasant subtext at work in this movie.
Sure – the awkwardly individualistic Georgy has undergone something of a transformation by the end of the film as she achieves what appears to be a form of compromised marital bliss.
But how she gets there does, at times, touch upon the highly dubious.
During the first third of the story, for instance, Georgy’s father’s rich employer James Leamington (James Mason) – a childless businessman who insists he always looked upon her as a daughter while she was growing up in his house – suggests they enter a written contract whereby she becomes his mistress (this while his wife Ellen, played by Rachel Kempson, is dying). Oddly, despite balking at this generous offer to effectively be his whore, by the movie’s conclusion she has ended up marrying the man – an act which allows her, in the words of The Seekers at least, to become “a new Georgy girl”.
Meanwhile, Georgy’s in-residence butler dad Ted (Bill Owen) more or less pimps her off to his boss (admittedly this is only suggested in a brief exchange of dialogue; nevertheless the implication is there), reaffirming his and his wife Doris’ (Clare Kelly) fear that their lone offspring is an awkward loser whose only real hope in life is to attach herself to some well-to-do gent.
And, before she eventually ties the knot with Leamington, the hitherto virginal heroine has an affair with Jos Jones (Alan Bates), who has just married her roommate/best friend Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) after the latter becomes pregnant.
To complicate matters, following the baby’s arrival a bitterly post-natal Meredith – who has already aborted previous pregnancies with Jones – decides she will adopt the infant out, at which point Georgy steps in as the surrogate mother. In effect this not only allows her to strengthen her connection with the soon-to-be divorced father, but also forces her to lie to the UK Government’s social services agency in order to keep her “daughter” Sara (actor unknown).
But when her happy-go-lucky lover irresponsibly throws caution to the wind by quitting his stifling job at the bank, Georgy has to reassess everything and, it’s at this point, she decides the lecherous old Leamington (who’s actually only 49) is the better option. Unfortunately, this development looks like it too may eventually be fraught with difficulty when – just as the newly-weds are being driven away from the church ceremony – her husband’s face seriously drops as it dawns on him that he hasn’t just secured a new (and much younger) squeeze who he has known since she was a baby, but will now have to compete with someone else’s child for his bride’s affections.
Thus, how their life of marital bliss will pan out becomes one of the story’s big unknowns as it’s here that the end credits roll. If anything, it is likely much of the above-mentioned unsavouriness dogging Georgy’s existence will continue as she embarks on what is in no way a certain future.
While this might sound like a grimly sanctimonious interpretation of a movie which, in many ways, tries to pass itself off as a melodramatic comedy, the conclusion is still inescapable – the ugly duckling heroine may have become something of a swan, but she ultimately looks set to remain stranded in the same stagnant pond. Or, to put it bluntly (and contrary to what the plot might otherwise be suggesting), it’s highly unlikely there will ever be a completely satisfactory existence for this woman.
In her above-mentioned essay on the film, which is included in the promotional material accompanying Powerhouse Films Ltd’s Blu-ray release of Georgy Girl, Weston acknowledges it does not treat its leading character “with warmth or hold her in such high regard” as audiences of the day did. Rather, “she is side-lined in her own story”; an interesting observation given Redgrave, in real life (and, one might add, quite unfairly) received third billing behind Mason and Bates.
“From today’s vantage point, Georgy just seems like an ordinary girl: vivacious, flawed, yet lovable – someone we could be friends with,” the critic says. “And that’s what makes the film so interesting.”
Perhaps. However, it’s also arguable that much of the movie’s intrigue stems from the fact its outlook is decidedly brutal. No one in the film, for instance, seems to have a particularly strong moral compass. Furthermore, at the end of its cinematic day, Swinging London is portrayed as a dead end; a place where wanton hedonism may be commonplace, but the privileged class still gets what it wants so long as it’s willing to pay the price. Thus, as a commentary about what was then the emerging youth culture’s attempt to distance itself from a stuffier (read older) generation, Georgy Girl actually turns out to be quite pessimistic.
This begs the question: is this what the film makers – particularly screenwriters Margaret Forster (who wrote the novel on which the movie is based) and Peter Nichols – set out to do?
Possibly, but it is quite difficult to ascertain as the quirky and upbeat feel of the whole narrative doesn’t seem to have an overtly ironic (or tragic) bone in its bubbly celluloid body.
Interestingly, Redgrave more or less agreed that the film’s portrayal of her character was not exactly positive when being interviewed by journalist Howard Maxford back in 1996.
“George (sic) is quite ruthless really,” she said. “So it is an immoral story, but George was such a survivor that people identified with her.”
Survival, though, comes at a cost – something, it seems, which may have been lost on progressive audiences of the day. As for contemporary viewers who embrace the values of the Me Too movement, they no doubt will find very few redeeming values in this ultimately sexist tale.
Leanne Weston: “Good Girl, Bad Luck: Morality and Performance in Georgy Girl”, Powerhouse Films Ltd promotional booklet, 2018, pp 5-13
Howard Maxford: “Making Georgy Girl”, Powerhouse Films Ltd promotional booklet, 2018, p 28
Source: Review: “Georgy Girl” Is No Feminist Statement
Charlotte Rampling: “I’ve always wanted things to be a different challenge”
The veteran actor speaks exclusively to RadioTimes.com about her career, starring in new film Juniper and why she was so keen to be part of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
By Patrick Cremona
Why Charlotte Rampling’s 1976 Fitness Guide in Vogue Was Years Ahead of Its Time
The British actress’s workout and skin care techniques closely resemble health, fitness, and beauty’s latest holistic persuasions.
Charlotte Rampling’s film 45 Years, in which the iconic British actress plays a woman reflecting on her life on the cusp of her 45th wedding anniversary, opens in the U.K. The movie’s release inspired us to reminisce about Rampling’s own remarkable past, by diving back nearly four decades into the Vogue archives. In a July 1976 feature story—shot by Helmut Newton at her St.-Tropez villa just a few years after her star-making turn in The Night Porter—a then-30-year-old Rampling is not only called “the sexiest woman of the seventies,” but she also reveals exactly how she maintains her beauty from the inside out. What results is a six-page profile on the strategies she regularly employs to, in her words, “keep my . . . mind clear and unobstructed,” amid work, motherhood, friendship, and love—techniques that, even 39 years later, feel extraordinarily modern when considering today’s latest health, fitness, and wellness trends. Here, a look back at the highlights.
Are you familiar with breathing exercises and meditation? Have you recently taken an interest in barre class? Then you are well on your way to a Rampling-esque frame. After enjoying a fresh-from-bed stretch “like a cat,” Rampling heads to the shower to “bend and move.” A trained ballerina, she then makes use of her knowledge of classical technique. “I do ballet movements every day. I started at age five.” Continue reading
Why Dirk Bogarde was a truly dangerous film star
From heartthrob to icon of edginess, the actor had an extraordinary career. On the centenary of his birth, Sophie Monks Kaufman wonders if we will see so daring a leading man again.
By Sophie Monks Kaufman | BBC
Many actors have undergone transformations, from Olivia Colman morphing from a British sitcom mainstay into a serious actress of international repute, to Robert DeNiro trading method-actor intensity for jovial fare like Meet The Fockers – but no-one has made quite such a provocative career turn as Dirk Bogarde.
The British actor had two distinct phases: from 1948 he lit up screens as a dashing matinee idol, and then, from 1961, he chose roles that challenged received morality and that pushed the scope of cinema. All the while, he stayed alive to the world beyond his forcefield, as revealed by the entertaining letters he wrote to everyone from collaborators to random penpals.
As we approach the centenary of his birth this weekend, it’s interesting to reflect on a unique star whose legacy is a clarion call to pursue creative freedom. By the time he became an actor he had experienced enough of the heaviness of life to take fame lightly. In other words: he didn’t believe his own hype, even though there sure was a lot of it not to believe.
The crowd-pleasing early days
“Presenting Britain’s most popular star” shouts the trailer to the 1958 Charles Dickens adaptation A Tale of Two Cities, cutting to a figure who is every inch the romantic gentleman with a cravat, top hat and furrowed brow: “Dirk Bogarde as Sydney Carton”. Continue reading