The black-and-white film entitled “The Browning Version” is a screen adaptation of the play of the same name, written by English playwright Terence Rattigan. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1951, Michael Redgrave won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of the retiring schoolmaster, and Terence Rattigan won an award for Best Screenplay. The English accent is sometimes difficult to understand in British films, and “The Browning Version” is no exception.
Michael Redgrave Wikimedia
Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) had been teaching Latin and Greek in a boys’ school in England for eighteen years, but had been advised by his doctor to leave that stressful position to take a less demanding position at a school for backward boys. It was close to the end of the semester, and he had just a short time left at the school. Tragically, Andrew knew that the students, who called him “The Crock” did not like or respect him. His strict discipline and lack of humor made the boys uncomfortable, even fearful.
One boy in his class, Taplow (Brian Smith), felt sorry for Andrew. During a lesson where the teacher spoke in Greek, Taplow laughed at the correct time, leading Andrew to believe that Taplow understood the joke that was told in Greek. He asked Taplow to translate the passage, but Taplow apologized, saying that he did not really understand it; he was just being polite. Andrew was deflated.
Jean Kent - Wikimedia
In addition to his problems at school, Andrew had problems at home. His wife Millie (Jean Kent), who was much younger than her husband, had been having an affair with the science teacher at the school, Frank Hunter (Nigel Patrick). Millie was in love with Frank, but Frank did not return her love; he was just using her. Millie often spoke to her husband with disdain, and was not a likeable human being.
A Popular Young Teacher is Also Leaving
Another teacher was also planning to leave at the end of the semester. Mr. Fletcher (Bill Travers) was a popular young teacher who was leaving teaching to become a professional cricket player. The two men were scheduled to speak at the graduation ceremony. The headmaster, Dr. Frobisher (Wilfrid Hyde-White), had asked Andrew to relinquish the honor of speaking last at the ceremony in favor of Mr. Fletcher, thinking that it would be anti-climactic for Andrew to speak after the applause that would be set off for the popular Mr. Fletcher. Andrew reluctantly agreed to speak before Fletcher.
Andrew Will Not Receive a Pension
In his conversation with Dr. Frobisher, Andrew also learned that his eighteen years at the school were not sufficient to receive a pension, even though exceptions had been made in the past. Since Andrew’s wife was from a wealthy family which provided her with 300 pounds a year, it seemed plausible that Andrew would be well taken care of since his new position at the school for backward boys would give him a yearly income of 200 pounds. The revelation was a blow to the teacher, whose life would have been much more comfortable if he could receive a pension.
Agamemnon - Wikimedia
Taplow was required to meet with Andrew at his home for extra study after flubbing the lesson that day. The play under discussion was “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus. Andrew said he had a different version of the play than Taplow was using. He also mentioned that he had translated “Agamemnon” when he was about Taplow’s age. It was never published because he had never finished it and it had since been lost. Taplow was eager to learn if he would be promoted at the end of the semester, but Andrew insisted that Taplow’s parents would be notified of that at the proper time.
Andrew’s replacement, Mr. Gilbert (Ronald Howard), asked to sit in on his class for a few days. Andrew told Gilbert not to use himself as a model. He said that he did not have the knack of making himself liked. The boys laughed at his mannerisms. They regarded him as a funny character. He did not know that he would be so disliked. He felt like a failure as a schoolmaster.
The Browning Version
Taplow came to see Andrew once again. He had a present for him. It was the Browning Version of the “Agamemnon.” It was a second hand book, he said. He had written something in it for his teacher. It was a Greek phrase that meant “God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master.” Andrew was so touched by it that he started to cry.
Millie, his wife, sneered at his gift. She reminded him that Taplow’s promotion to the next grade was in his teacher’s hands, and that the boy was only trying to buy him off.
Taplow had noticed among Andrew’s belongings that he was gathering together for his departure, his own version of the “Agememnon” which he had not finished. Taplow took it with him because he wanted badly to read it.
Wilfrid Hyde-White Wikimedia
Andrew Will Speak Last at Graduation
Before the graduation ceremony, Andrew told Dr. Frobisher, the headmaster, that he wanted to take his rightful place and speak at the end of the ceremony, rather than prior to Mr. Fletcher. Dr. Frobisher acceded to his wish.
Crocker-Harris began: “You must excuse me. I had prepared a speech, but I find now that I have nothing to say.” He paused and went on. “I am sorry because I have failed to give you what you demanded of your teacher. I deserved the nickname of Himmler. I have degraded the noblest calling that a man can follow, the care and molding of the young. I have not done it; I have failed miserably. Please find it in your hearts to forgive me for letting you down. I will not find it easy to forgive myself. That is all. Goodbye.”
Taplow came up to Crocker-Harris after the ceremony and told him that he had borrowed his version of the “Agamemnon.” “I thought it was good,” he said. “Why didn’t you finish it?” He asked again if he would be promoted, but Andrew would not give him an answer. He said instead “Don’t blow yourself up next term in the Science Upper Fifth.” Taplow walked away happy.
This is a sad story. Having been a teacher, I could feel for Andrew who found it hard to relate to his students. That is probably the most important asset a teacher must have. In addition, his home life was unsatisfactory. I felt deeply sorry for Andrew, and was happy that one student had an appreciation for him, which must have buoyed his spirits somewhat.