THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
This is a 1961 William Wyler (Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday) film, based on a play by Lillian Helman, in which two female teachers running a small American girls' school were accused by a revengeful pupil, from a rich family, of being lovers.

Needing no introduction, Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine play the two teachers and Karen Balkin (who seemed to disappear from films very shortly after), the pupil. James Garner plays Audrey's betrothed/local doctor and they're the main players. It turns out that the boyfriend is the nephew of the naughty pupil's grandmother, which slightly complicates matters, and there's a special bond between grandmother/granddaughter which leads the old woman to blindly believe the lies of the child.

Based on an apparently true story from a Scottish school some decades earlier, the film explores the social implications and potentially damaging impact on a number of things, mostly people. Society's view on (accusations of, in this case) same-gender relationships in 1960's America, the dangers of people believing blindly what they want to believe in order to maintain harmony amongst family, the impact on other people's lives of lies and deceit, how people can be manipulated by others in order to save their skin, gossip, the knock-on impacts of stealing and blackmail...the list goes on! But the film is mainly a sad and ultimately dark and harrowing film about two accused people fighting the system (and society) against the word of a child from a monied background.

The two female leads are played impeccably by Hepburn and MacLaine, engaging, sincere, totally believable in their roles and not floating towards the 'wooden' of which I often accuse actors in films of the era. Both of them shine as they bravely get away from their usual light and fluffy comic roles and Garner similarly. It's great to see actors being flexible and capable, playing very different parts instead of repeating the same ones.

The film is shot in black and white mostly inside the small school. You can see how easily it had come from a play as the whole thing would only really need a stage with a couple of set changes. The direction/screenplay is tight and dialogue snappy where it needs to be. The often soft lighting and focus on set add to the atmosphere throughout and much of it reminds me very much of a Hitchcock delivery. Highly recommended viewing.
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