Michael Redgrave brings a remarkable depth to the role of a public school teacher whose ill health is forcing him to give up his tenure at an upper class boys’ school in favour of a less lucrative position at an institution for troubled teens. Mr. Crocker-Harris, grim and unsmiling, looks back over his 18 years as a professor of Latin and Greek with bitterness and regret. Once a promising young scholar, he slowly let his dreams die one by one until, approaching middle age, he realizes his life is as dead as the languages he teaches. He is pitied by the faculty, scorned by his students, and trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who views him with contempt even as she flaunts her affairs in his face. Yet there remains one student who seems to sense the old man’s inherent worth, a bright young boy who tries to tap into his fragile humanity and whose farewell gift, from which the movie gets its title, opens a floodgate of repressed emotion. Asquith presents Terence Rattigan’s painfully honest play with great subtlety aided in large part by Dickinson’s poignant B&W cinematography. It’s all so very British, with the characters’ impeccable diction and well-mannered facades barely concealing their underlying anger and despair. Harris’ emotional showdown with his wife, a victim in her own rights, is brilliantly downplayed even as the sky above them explodes with fireworks. Perhaps the film relies too heavily on melodrama at times with its drawn out stares and well-choreographed anguish; and perhaps the allusion to the classical tragedy of Agamemnon, which Harris is teaching his class, doesn’t quite hit the ironic mark it was aimed at. But these are minor drawbacks for a film that many critics hail as a small masterpiece.
Michael Redgrave plays Crocker-Harris, strict teacher in a boys school who married to an unfaithful wife that despise him and who teaches students that hate him. Redgrave and Terrence Rattigan (scriptwriter) were Cannes winners while the director, Anthony Asquith was Cannes nominated for best director. In this film, Redgrave is completely transformed into his character and is kicked around like a dog by all those around him. One of my favorite films for all of the emotions it evokes.
Definitely a tour d'force of acting and cinematography, but what really blew me away was the makeup. The extremely subtle and effective work by Biddy Chrystal (hair stylist) and W.T. Partleton (makeup artist) supported and enhanced the characters, particularly Redgrave and Kent. With the combination of great acting and makeup, it took me a few minutes to recognize the two actors, both of whom I've seen many times. For example, Kent's hair, while obviously in a style of the period, was adjusted ever so slightly in crucial areas to make it seem almost inhuman. Likewise, her facial makeup was strictly in period but the eyebrows were just a little too plucked and the skin just a little too shiny. When combined with her superb acting and the fine writing, the overall effect produced a horribly disgusting monster made more revolting because of its humanity.
quite dark...extremely well-written & acted---wow!
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