The Browning Version Review

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Finney plays a classics teacher impassioned by Greek literature but whose exhausting experience has made him a tyrant in the classroom and at home. His wife is having an affair and he has taken early retirement, when an unexpected gift from a student helps him regain his self respect and the repect of his wife.


This latest adaptation of 1930s playwrite Terence Rattigan' s most famous play is part of a rivival hoping to cash in on a cultural trend which might best be described as back to basics. Certainly the distinguishing elements of the production suggest that here is another contemporary British film where the trappings of heritage are more important than the forces of history.

Director Figgis and screenwriter Ronald Harwood haven't changed much in the basic set-up. Finney plays a washed-up classics teacher at a public school whose passionate interest in Greek literature has been exhausted by 20 years of teaching. As a result, he becomes a petty tyrant in the classroom, alienates the affections of his pouting wife (Scacchi), who begins an affair with the winsome physics teacher (Modine), and reaches such a state of despair that the school's headmaster is able to manoeuvre him into early retirement with barely a tremble. All this changes when he receives an unexpected gift from one of his pupils and recovers his self-respect and the esteem of his wife.

Rattigan originally intended his play to be a critique of the repression which a rigidly structured society depended on to function effectively. A fair enough point for 1939, but Figgis updates the play to make the reason for his leaving different, and the social mores more relevant. Finney, in fine form, hams it up wonderfully, reason enough to give this one a try.

Finney, in fine form, hams it up wonderfully, reason enough to give this one a try.