Film Review: The Children’s Hour (1961)

Audrey Hepburn, Shirley Maclaine and James Garner

This film is about the POWER OF LIES and the results of taking them at face value, without evidence or corroboration. Due to the dictatorial effects of the Hayes Code (set up by a the Postmaster General William Hayes, who looked not unlike Mickey Mouse (Thank you Gore Vidal for giving me that particular image), which stated that homosexuality and references to it, or sexual deviance of any kind were not allowed to be included in motion pictures, it was initially banned soon after release, however it gained some audience and is finally now more widely available.

Karen Wright (Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Maclaine) run a girls school, one of the pupils, the insidious goggle eyed Mary, takes it upon herself to cause them as much trouble as she is able, as a form of revenge for some minor slights she perceives they have wrought against her. She chooses a lie so outlandish coming from a pupil such as she is, that despite being a character lacking in some of the finer qualities of morality (Or, it would seem, any hints of having a moral compass at all), she is fully believed, and events begin to rapidly unfurl. This causes the collapse of two characters with impeccable morals and who should be wholly believable to be shunned by an entire community seemingly without thought or questioning. Resulting in a downfall of such proportions they could not really have been predicted (Except by a modern viewer who knows how these sorts of stories always ended at that time, because lord knows a lesbian couldn’t have a happy ending… or live after the revelation of her sexuality and deviance from societies norms. Heaven fore-fend!).

Garner plays Hepburn’s fiance, who, to his credit, is supportive of the two women throughout, though it is clear by the end that he still needs to question the lies veracity, but hates himself for having to do so.

Bizarre as it may seem to a modern audience, the lie is never actually vocalised. Not once within the entire film. It is only heavily insinuated, yet it is obvious what it is. Neither is any word associated with homosexuality nor lesbianism ever mentioned, the lie that dared not be mentioned is deemed implicit enough not to have to physically mention it by name.

This film is the second remake of Lillian Hellman’s play from 1934, the first These Three, could only ever be said to be based ‘loosely’ upon her original play, for the lie was changed to an adulterous love triangle between the three leads, ostensibly too make it more palatable for a wider audience whilst upholding the element of a risqué nature, and to adhere to the Hays Code.

The Children’s Hour is a much needed reminder of just how far we have come, in terms of homosexuality on screen and gay rights and the squashing of appalling stereotypes and societal perceptions in general, even though it might sometimes feel that we have barely progressed, we have and this film is evidence of that.

Whilst this film is very much of its time, and is by no means particularly positive, barring perhaps the leading characters unabated devotion to each other and the truth; it is well worth looking out and watching. Be prepared for a typical ending for the era, given the subject matter and the odd moment of melodramatic acting, especially from the child of extreme annoyance, of both character and visuals; the permanent scowl etched on her features certainly doesn’t help, Martha’s coming out scene is overwrought enough to make you want to chew your hat brim in agitation (if you are that way inclined), verging on cringe induced embarrassment. However, none of this can detract from the central warning theme of the power, danger and destruction of lies.

7/10 for the lack of proper mention, melodramatic acting, the annoying child and an ending that embarrassingly made me cry the first time I saw it… and several times after dues to Martha’s sheer self-loathing, a sad, sad thing to see, otherwise, a really good film of cinematic and social merit. A lesbian classic up there with Maedchen in Uniform.


About Nerdsbian

I am a nerd for ALL seasons. Ravenclaw...natch. I am a genderqueer Librarian who unsurprisingly likes reading...a lot. But I also love being outside too...sometimes even reading at the same time. Also animals, any and all of them. Never yet met one that didn't get on with me and vice versa. I do a couple of different voluntary jobs (animal charity related), I am a Brownie Leader and have recently completed my MA.
This entry was posted in Film, lesbian, lesbian film, LGBTQ, LGBTQ film, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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