New Movies: Down the Up Staircase

"Who was the grreatest Italian painter?"

"Leonardo da Vinci."

"Wrong. Giotto. He is my favorite."

Such is the pedagogy in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A burring, feline spinster, Miss Brodie (Maggie Smith) lives off the baby fat of the land—Edinburgh, 1932. In a provincial girls' public school, she inscribes her prejudices on scores of blank pupils. Her taste becomes their only touchstone, her politics their only truth. "I am in the business," she loftily announces, "of putting old heads on young bodies."

Middle-aged heads would be more accurate. The autumnal Miss Brodie may believe she is in ascension; actually, she is...

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