|The Killing of Sister George|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Robert Aldrich|
|Produced by||Robert Aldrich|
|Written by||Lukas Heller
Frank Marcus (play)
|Music by||Gerald Fried|
|Cinematography||Joseph F. Biroc|
|Edited by||Michael Luciano|
|Distributed by||Cinerama Releasing Corporation|
|Running time||138 minutes|
Sister George is a beloved character in the popular radio series Applehurst, a nurse who ministers to the medical needs and personal problems of the local villagers. She is played by June Buckridge, who in real life is a gin-guzzling, cigar-chomping, slightly sadistic masculine woman, the antithesis of the sweet character she plays. She is often called George in real life, and lives with Alice "Childie" McNaught, a younger dimwitted woman she often verbally and sometimes physically abuses. When George discovers that her character is scheduled to be killed, she becomes increasingly impossible to work and live with. Mercy Croft, an executive at the radio station, intercedes in her professional and personal lives, supposedly to help, but she actually has an agenda of her own.
Although it is strongly implied that George and Childie are lesbians, and towards the end it is suggested that Mercy could be as well, this is never explicitly stated. Marcus intended the play to be a farce, not a serious treatment of lesbianism, but because there was so little material about lesbians it became treated as such.
It is usually regarded as a parody of the killing of Grace Archer in The Archers (an episode much better known at the time the play was written than it would be in the 21st century). It may also have been inspired by the sacking of actress Ellis Powell from Mrs Dale's Diary, and has sometimes been compared with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The death of Martha Longhurst (actress Lynne Carrol) in the English television serial Coronation Street in 1964 may also have been an inspiration.
After an unsuccessful tour, the play opened in London at Duke of York's Theatre in 1965, starring Beryl Reid as June Buckridge, Eileen Atkins as Childie and Lally Bowers as Mercy Croft. The following year, Reid, Atkins and Bowers played it at the Belasco Theatre in New York. The West End production transferred to the St Martin's Theatre, with Hermione Baddeley, Andree Melly and Margaret Courtenay taking over. Reid won the 1966 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.
Lukas Heller wrote the screenplay for the 1968 feature film version directed by Robert Aldrich. Beryl Reid was cast as George (although Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury were considered for the role). Susannah York played Childie and Coral Browne took the part of Mercy Croft. In the movie, Applehurst became a television soap opera, and the lesbian aspects of the plot were much more explicit. The film added many characters and shot many scenes on location. The opening sequence has George wandering through the streets and alleyways of Hampstead west of Heath Street. Another is in a real-life London lesbian hangout, the Gateways Club. Childie is portrayed as childishly naive rather than dim-witted, and George is more of an alcoholic. In one scene, while under the influence, George molests two novice nuns in a taxi, behaviour that precipitates the beginning of the end for Sister George.
Between the time the movie started filming and ended production, the movie industry instituted the new MPAA ratings system. Largely on the basis of a graphic sex scene involving Childie and Mercy, The Killing of Sister George received an X rating, which limited its screening in cinemas and ability to advertise in mainstream newspapers. Aldrich spent $75,000 battling the rating, but his lawsuit was dismissed, and the film died at the box office. In the UK the film had considerable censorship problems, with BBFC chief John Trevelyan demanding some dialogue changes and the complete removal of the seduction scene, leading to a standoff between Aldrich and the BBFC. The Greater London Council and 11 other councils allowed the film to be shown with lesser cuts to the scene, and Trevelyan finally passed a cut version for countrywide release in 1970. All subsequent home releases of the film have been fully uncut.
Beryl Reid was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Drama. The film is available on DVD. Rarely seen on American television, it was broadcast uncut by Turner Classic Movies as part of its June 2007 salute to gay cinema. The film has been shown a number of times on British television, although sometimes with the sex scene deleted.
The movie earned rentals of $3.45 million in North America and $1.875 million in other countries. However because of its high cost it recorded an overall loss of $750,000.