Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday Night Film: The Killing Of Sister George

'The Killing Of Sister George' is one of those films which remains infamous, long after its once shocking subject matter has become less controversial, perhaps even commonplace. One of the first X certificates, it was adapted from a less explicit play and directed by Robert Aldrich, a brilliant American auteur as adept at violent and cynical war, crime and western films as with more intimate (though no less hard hitting) psycho dramas.

Dear old lovable Sister George.

June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) is fat, middle aged, a heavy drinker, and a lesbian. She is also the most popular character on the BBC's favourite television soap opera, 'Applehurst' (a more anodyne 'Archers') - but, unbeknownst to her,  her longstanding role as jolly district nurse Sister George is in jeopardy because of her constant bad behaviour. She lives with Childie (beautiful Susannah York), a much younger woman who she treats appallingly: jealously questioning her about her movements, throwing scones in her face and, notoriously, making her eat discarded cigar butts as a punishment for speaking her mind.

O, Susannah.

A somewhat uneasy double act.
 When it becomes apparent that Sister George's days in Applehurst are shortly to be brought to an end by a ten ton truck, June goes off the rails, allowing predatory lesbian Mercy Croft (the superbly sinister Coral Browne) to take Childie away from her. June is left with nothing, except the possibility of a new series where she will provide the voice for a puppet cow called Clarabelle.

Sister George gets killed.

No Mercy.

Moo! Mooo! MOOOOOO!
Some of the action takes place in a real life club on the Kings Road called 'The Gateways', one of the first lesbian nightclubs in the UK, and the extras are drawn from its clientele, giving the film the additional frisson of explicitly showing a hitherto unseen taboo group in their 'natural habitat', although you might be forgiven for thinking it was just a crappy, sweaty club with rubbish music.

Unpopular beat combo.

Sixties Lesbians.
 Now seen as an important part of Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual cinema history (despite being a incredibly poor advert for a sapphic lifestyle), time may have dulled the more sensational aspects of 'The Killing Of Sister George', but it remains a superb drama with some excellent performances and Ms York at her loveliest.

I was going to present a slightly washed out trailer which marketed it as a Xmas film, like 'Jingle All The Way', or 'The Polar Express', but You Tube took it away. Bizarrely, though, you can watch the whole film there if you like, so, until they take this away, here it is. Oh, it's a long film, so get a cushion.

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