William Wyler's second film version (the first was THESE THREE in 1936) of Lillian Helman's controversial 1934 Broadway play gets a dual format UK disc release from the BFI.
Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) run an exclusive private school for young girls in a small American town. One of their pupils, the bored, spoilt, badly behaved Mary (Karen Balkin) tells her grandmother, the rich and influential Amelia (Fay Bainter) that she has overheard a conversation that strongly suggests the two teachers are lesbians.
Soon parents are taking their children away and the school is empty. Karen is due to marry a local doctor (James Garner) and their relationship comes under threat. The two women lose a libel case when the one person who could defend them, Martha's aunt Lily (played by Miriam Hopkins who was also in the 1936 version) doesn't turn up to the hearing. But the greatest tragedy is yet to come.
Wyler's earlier version of THE CHILDREN'S HOUR had to cut out all references that didn't adhere to the Hays Code, which makes you wonder why they bothered. It does mean that he directs this with real gusto, however, and while it is by its nature very dialogue heavy, Wyler opens the story up so its presentation never feels stagey.
The two leads are excellent and well cast. Up to this point both Hepburn and MacLaine were better known for playing comedy, and having them star in this ensured the audience would be on their side. Karen Balkin who plays the vindictive Mary may go a bit over the top with her facial expressions but she's still very much the forerunner of evil pre-teens that would become popular in 1970s horror films.
The BFI's Blu-ray is from an original 35mm fine grain element and looks crisp and clear. Extras include a commentary track from Neil Sinyard and a booklet with useful essays by Sarah Wood, So Mayer and Neil Sinyard.
William Wyler's THE CHILDREN'S HOUR is out on dual format from the BFI on Monday 18th June 2018