‘Georgy Girl’ a Real Head-Scratcher
By Todd Hill
The best thing budding cinephiles can do to expand their knowledge of cinema is catch up on films that predate them, from each and every decade. Start with the award winners, and once you feel steady on your feet with those, dive deep into the more obscure titles. You’re bound to make some real discoveries. You may also be left scratching your head on more than one occasion.
The second best thing for budding cinephiles to attempt is testing the waters with foreign films as well. These titles aren’t just windows onto different cultures, but can represent a real education on how variously the art form of cinema has been interpreted.
If you’re really lucky, you may happen onto a motion picture from the past that even though it’s an English-language movie still comes across as uniquely foreign. Such was my experience upon catching “Georgy Girl,” a British film from 1966, for the first time.
Great Britain, or at least London, or perhaps just certain parts of London, started swinging almost overnight once the Beatles hit the scene and in one fell swoop swept away the country’s bleak postwar years. “Georgy Girl” is light on the music, apart from an infectiously catchy title song that accompanies the film’s opening and closing credits, by The Seekers. But the film’s mod, even manic, style feels like an overly deliberate attempt to cash in on the mood of the moment.
For the record, I’m attempting in my articles on this website to draw attention to classic films — and on occasion classic television series and miniseries — that merit our attention. Ideally, this is because they’re quality entertainments that deserve to be seen. If only this were always the case. A few of the postings on this site concern lesser offerings. Why?
Some motion pictures don’t deserve the esteemed reputations they’ve somehow managed to retain, and that needs to be corrected (“Around the World in 80 Days,” essay posted March 19, 2020). A handful of others, woeful as they may be, are nonetheless still significant to the history of the medium (“Heaven’s Gate,” Feb. 27, 2020). And then there are those movies that are so fascinatingly misconceived, misguided or simply plain bad that they really should be experienced just once.
“Georgy Girl” belongs in that last category. The would-be comedy concerns an ugly duckling, a young woman portrayed by Lynn Redgrave who we’re told time and again has a fat face. Even her own father disparages her looks, although the worst that can be said about her is she’s plain.
Georgy, however, has character. Her brash personality is what empowers her, or so it would seem. The film, directed by Silvio Narizzano, is woefully inconsistent in characterization as well as tone. Just as it doesn’t know what it wants to say about Georgy or what happens to her, we’re ultimately unsure of what to make of it.
And Georgy, despite the strength of her character, is in the end largely defined by the actions of the people around her, all of whom are pretty lousy individuals. We as an audience want to root for Georgy, or at least we’re encouraged to, only to see her give in and make bad choices.
The supposed star of the movie — at least he got top billing — is James Mason, who portrays the wealthy, middle-aged lecher who employs Georgy’s parents while asking her to be his mistress (Georgy has the good sense to decline). For whatever reason, lechery was a comfortable fit for Mason at this point in her career; just four years earlier he appeared as Humbert Humbert in the film version of “Lolita.”
Meanwhile, Georgy is also being lusted over by her best friend’s boyfriend-turned-fiance Jos, played by a bizarrely clownish Alan Bates. If ever there was someone easy to resist it’s this nutbird, and yet Georgy falls for him. Where the movie really falls apart, however, is with the character of Meredith, Georgy’s best friend.
Meredith is played by a young Charlotte Rampling, who is, quite frankly, stunningly beautiful here. How someone with her looks and an ugly duckling like Georgy would even know each other is a valid question, but the implausibilities only start there. Meredith plays the field — that’s pretty much all she does — yet wants to make a man out of the breathtakingly immature Jos by marrying him and having his child, despite having no evident affection for him.
Meredith had previously had several babies aborted, and the cavalier attitude she takes toward abortion is shocking, even by today’s standards. Is the filmmaker trying to be hip here? Once the baby is born, Meredith won’t even look at it, or Jos, and immediately goes back to her wild nights.
Georgy adopts the unwanted baby because somebody has to, Jos is last seen impishly jumping over stanchions on the sidewalk and howling like a chimpanzee, and Georgy decides to marry James Mason’s sugar daddy, whose wife has just died. At least he’ll be happy, although he doesn’t appear to like kids.
Goodness knows, we all have flaws. Some of us are even defined by our flaws. Such imperfect traits deserve to be dramatized, in fact should be. But a fine line is inevitably drawn between flawed characters who merit our empathy or our contempt. It falls on the storytellers to find a way to make us care about them.
When it comes to “Georgy Girl,” however, that’s a task far too great for the assembled talent. What results is the cinematic equivalent of a car wreck. You just can’t tear your eyes away.
Todd Hill is a former journalist with 30 years of experience, much of it in film criticism, who misses neither journalism nor the film beat.