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The Killing of Sister George

August 22, 2018

TKOSGThis was inspired by a real-life incident which attracted much media attention in Britain in the early 1960s. A radio soap opera, “Mrs. Dale’s Diary”, had been running since the 1940s when the BBC suddenly decided to replace the leading actors and move the setting to a new town, with new supporting characters. The actress who had played Mrs. Dale for so long, Ellis Powell, never recovered from this career blow and died relatively soon afterwarytds, mostly as a result of alcoholism.

It is simply a complex drama that focuses on a lesbian relationship. It is radical because of that, because of its directness and because the film uses real lesbians as extras and real locations to add an air of authenticity. A culture that was previously hidden is revealed.

“Sister George” is a lovable motor scooter-riding health care provider and local sage, on a fictional long-running BBC television soap opera, Applehurst. She has been with the show for years and is so identified with her character that she is nicknamed “George”. Off-screen, she is outspoken, ribald, cigar-smoking and frequently inebriated, unlike her kindly on-screen persona. Although she has been popular with viewers in the past, several Applehurst characters have recently died, causing her to worry that Sister George may be next. Her worry affects her already volatile relationship with her live-in lover, a younger, beautiful woman named Alice, whom June calls “Childie”. Childlike Alice plays with dolls, writes poetry, and has a minor fashion industry job, but relies on June for most of her financial and emotional support. Domineering June is alternately affectionate and abusive towards Alice, and reacts jealously when Alice spends time with other men or women. Alice rebels by talking back to June and refusing to play along with a “contrition” game in which June makes her kneel and eat a cigar butt.

After an Applehurst colleague jokes about Sister George possibly dying on the show, June walks out on a script reading, gets drunk, and forces herself into a taxi alongside two young Catholic nuns, whom she sexually assaults, resulting in the taxi having an accident in a busy intersection. The nuns’ Mother Superior and the Archbishop complain to the BBC, causing powerful network producer Mrs. Croft to visit June at home and lecture her about her behaviour and her attitude at work. When June balks at apologizing for the incident, Mrs. Croft makes clear that her future at the network depends on her apologizing and changing her ways. Mrs. Croft further infuriates June by taking an interest in Alice, complimenting her cooking and encouraging her poetic aspirations. At the next script reading, June finds that Sister George has been temporarily written out of the show with an illness, seemingly as punishment for June, and raising the possibility that her character will not recover.

June’s spirits improve when she receives the next script, showing that Sister George has recovered and returned to riding her motor scooter. June and Alice go to a party at a local lesbian nightclub, to which she jokingly invites Mrs. Croft. Halfway through the party, when June is already annoyed by Alice dancing with another woman, Mrs. Croft arrives to tell June in person that Sister George will die by being hit by a delivery truck. After June storms off, Mrs. Croft invites Alice to meet with her to further discuss Alice’s poetry. On June’s last day of filming for Applehurst, Alice untruthfully says she cannot meet June for lunch because she is busy at work. The upset June tries to sabotage her fellow actors’ performances and drag out the filming as long as possible; afterwards, she finds out that Alice lied to her in order to meet with Mrs. Croft.

At her farewell cast party, June makes a scene, insulting the senior network executive, pouring drinks over a rival actor, and finally exploding in front of the guests when Mrs. Croft offers her a new role as the voice of a talking cow on a children’s cartoon show. She confronts Mrs. Croft and Alice, who leave the party together and return to Alice and June’s apartment. Mrs. Croft persuades Alice to leave and stay with her in order to avoid June’s wrath, and offers to help Alice further her writing ambitions. Alice and Mrs. Croft end up having sex in Alice’s bedroom, and June catches them in the act, leading to a final confrontation in which June reveals that Alice is actually 32 years old and the mother of a teenage daughter, whom she abandoned. Alice leaves with Mrs. Croft, dropping her key in the mail slot to show she will not return. Left alone, June wanders on the deserted Applehurst set, destroying equipment and props and uttering “Mooo”.

The scene in the lesbian bar was filmed in a real one – the Gateways Club in London. This generated a lot of controversy, as audiences weren’t used to seeing lesbians interacting so openly with each other.

 

When first submitted in 1969 UK censor John Trevelyan refused to grant a certificate unless the seduction scene was toned down and urged all 600 local authorities to boycott the film. 12 councils, including the GLC, overrode him and showed the film with their own X certificate. After heated discussions with the distributor the kissing scene was slightly reduced and Trevelyan eventually passed the movie. All video/DVD versions of the film are the original uncut one.

 

Alice: Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know.

George: That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!

 

Mercy Croft: It so happens that your death will coincide with road safety week, a cause which we know is very close to your heart.

 

Betty Thaxter: What’s one looking for then, love and affection?

George: I suppose you could put it like that, yes.

Betty Thaxter: Oh. I think I need a drink now.

 

George: I collect horse brasses.

Mercy Croft: Oh, how useful.

 

Mercy Croft: People are always telling me how cheerful you look, riding around on your bike.

George: Well, you’d look cheerful too with fifty cubic centimeters throbbing away between your legs!

 

George: I’m going to give the people what they really want -commercials!

 

George: Anyway, where were you when I phoned you at the office?

Alice: I told you Mr. Katz gave us the day off; it’s a Jewish holiday.

George: Oh, really? what holiday?

Alice: I don’t know… Feast of the Contamination, or something.

 

Alice: What are you doing?

George: I’m writing something very obscene about the British Broadcasting Corporation.

 

George: By yourself? You couldn’t even cross the bloody road by yourself!

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From → Film, Sexuality

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