Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Class of Miss MacMichael (1978)



          Offering a seriocomic look at troubles plaguing a British school for maladjusted students, The Class of Miss MacMichael touches on issues to which viewers anywhere can relate, such as the challenges of working for autocrats and the difficulty of inserting individualism into inflexible institutions. Glenda Jackson, all fire and idealism, plays Conor MacMichael, one of the school’s teachers. She’s a caring educator who embraces the radical idea that treating young people with respect might compel them to work hard, so her natural enemy is Terence Sutton (Oliver Reed), the school’s unfeeling headmaster. He views students as little more than discipline problems, so he uses intimidation and punishment to quell rebelliousness. There’s never much doubt where the filmmakers’ sympathies lie, and Reed plays his role in such a flamboyant style that the headmaster is too cartoonish to take seriously. Given this imbalance, The Class of Miss MacMichael doesn’t offer many real insights or surprises. It’s a position paper with a few jokes and some melodrama. That said, Jackson, as always, is a commanding screen presence, so she imbues the movie with humor, ferocity, and passion.
         As for the plot, don’t expect much, since The Class of Miss MacMichael has an episodic structure. Conor bonds with her students, counseling a promiscuous girl about sex and trying to keep a mentally challenged boy out of trouble, even as the headmaster imposes strict rules and threatens Conor’s job security. Meanwhile, Conor blends her personal and professional lives by involving her American boyfriend, Martin (Michael Murphy), in activities with her students. Among Conor’s few allies at work is Una (Rosalind Cash), an American teacher with a knack for managing the mentally challenged boy’s periodic meltdowns. Although The Class of Miss MacMichael feels longer than its 94 minutes thanks to the lack of a compelling overarching storyline, most of the film’s vignettes are interesting. Scenes with Jackson overseeing controlled chaos feel credible, and Murphy’s affability adds a pleasant color whenever he’s onscreen. Reed, however, seems as if he’s in a different movie, though he shares blame for his over-the-top performance with director Silvio Narizzano, who should have recognized that Reed’s campy style clashes with the straightforward work of the other actors. In one scene, for instance, Reed’s character literally knocks the heads of two students together.

The Class of Miss MacMichael: FUNKY

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