Ridley Scott’s daughter goes back to school for her film directing debut set in 1930s England
Imagine a heady mix of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Lord of the Flies, with an added dash of early-1930s classic Maidens in Uniform, and you’ll have some idea of the febrile mood of this sensual boarding school melodrama, the confident directing debut of Jordan Scott (daughter of Ridley).
Scott’s film takes its plot from a novel by Sheila Kohler, but the action has been shifted from 1960s South Africa to a remote island off the coast of 1930s England – home to an austere and fusty all-girls boarding school. Austere and fusty are certainly not adjectives you could apply to the school’s most charismatic teacher, the dashing Miss G – played with witchy allure by Eva Green (Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd).
Miss G coaches the school’s swimming team, a self-appointed elite headed by Juno Temple’s bossy captain, Di Radfield, and she holds the girls spellbound with her tales of exotic travel and daring outlook on life. (“The most important thing in life is desire,” is one of her racy precepts.) She wilfully encourages the girls’ crushes (‘cracks’ in their slang), but how real is her worldliness? Is she as “free and fearless” as she makes out? These questions begin to nag when an outsider, beautiful aristocratic Spanish pupil Fiamma (María Valverde) joins the school, shakes Miss G’s cool poise and upsets the fragile status quo.
Scott does a good job of evoking the school’s hothouse atmosphere and the girls’ repressed but volatile sexuality. And she has a keen eye for the fervid rivalries of adolescence and the wellsprings of bullying (the way in which neediness and vulnerability can turn into cruelty, for example, is very well captured by Temple’s Di). The film doesn’t look beyond the island at the political storms then gathering in Europe, but you can surely see how fascism can flourish in a rule-bound, rigidly hierarchical institution.
There’s certainly something dangerous about Miss G. At first, she radiates a louche glamour, and Green conveys this so well that it’s easy to see how she holds the girls in thrall, but when darker sides to Miss G’s character begin to emerge, Green’s performance doesn’t have the same conviction. But even if there are a few wobbles towards the end, Scott’s film debut remains a compelling psychological thriller.
On general release from 4th December.