The Killing of Sister George (1968, 138 minutes)
June Bukridge (Beryl Reid) is an actress who portrays a cheerful country nurse, Sister George, in a popular English series. At home, she has a younger lover, Childie (Susannah York). June’s escapades begin to get her in trouble with the network. Enter Mercy Croft (Coral Browne) a predatory BBC executive, who is the bearer of bad news not just about June’s work but her love life as well.
Here’s another oldie but goodie. This movie might have the first cinematic woman who not only identifies as a lesbian, but is also proud of it. June (in the movie everyone calls her George) is a woman who is loud, “butch” and some other adjectives that are associated with lesbian stereotypes. Stereotypes abound in this movie, so if this easily offends you, perhaps you should stay away. If, on the other hand it doesn’t, then don’t miss this one.
George is quickly losing her hold on her lover, Childie, and her career, ironically at the hands of the same woman, Mercy Croft. Susannah York’s performance is discomforting in that her character insists on behaving like a child; Childie is not a misnomer for her. The power dynamics between George and Childie are a little bit disturbing and you have to wonder what the makers of this movie thought lesbian relationships were like. The viewer can’t escape the implication that there exists a pathological mother/daughter bond between lesbians because the pattern repeats itself with Mercy and Childie. Although the movie is all about relationships, this isn’t a love story. It does make the lesbianism perfectly clear, including a love scene (not between George and Childie, though). Not surprisingly, the movie does not end on a happy note.
Still, the movie is not without its merits. During an argument over George’s jealousy, Childie says, “Not all girls are raving bloody lesbians, you know!” George then delivers one of the best lines in lesbian cinematic history, “That’s a misfortune of which I am perfectly well aware.” You have to love a woman who looks at women-loving-women that way. Historically, this movie is a must for a queer film enthusiast. It caused an uproar back when it opened. The Los Angeles Times refused to run the original ad for the movie. It was released with an “X” rating in different parts of the world. Believe me, there is nothing “X” rated about this movie, but for its time the movie was controversial. One of the scenes in the movie is actually shot in a real English lesbian bar, the Gateways Club, with real lesbian patrons. Allegedly, one of the women was fired from her job after she was seen in the movie. Vito Russo argues that this movie is about the closet and the consequences of being “out” at the time. When you look at the fate of the very out George and the ultimately very closeted Mercy, Russo’s theory makes perfect sense.
We shouldn’t forget history and today’s times being what they are, with some of us not ever knowing what real homophobia is; a movie like “Sister George” or “The Children’s Hour” can help us remember and empathize with people who are still living that reality. If that’s not enough reason to watch this movie, then watch it for Beryl Reed, who turns in an amazing performance, including the heartbreaking last scene.