Story: Andrew Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave) has taught the classics of literature at a posh private school for nearly two decades, but he is about to shift into a new stage of his life and by turn, a new stage of his career. The move was driven by some persistent health concerns, including a rather serious heart condition that requires lifestyle changes. That’s where the career path leads to a new school, with fewer responsibilities and more time to relax, heal, and spend time with his wife, Millie (Jean Kent). As the final days at his longtime position wind down, Andrew takes stock of his life and career, finding himself rather dissatisfied in general. But he soon learns some troubling news that accelerates his melancholy, bad news which is compounded several times over, as more secrets are revealed. How will Andrew handle the looming changes in his life, now that his perspective is so different?
Entertainment Value: The Browning Version is based on the stage play of the same name, one which is often produced for the big screen, both before and after this adaptation. I haven’t seen all the various editions of the material, but none have the reputation or acclaim of this one, which remains praised and sought out even after so many decades. The story is a skilled one, a character study of sorts, though one that lets not only inside the introspection process, but also able to view how Andrew is seen through the lenses of those around him. The pace is relaxed enough to allow the narrative to flow well, while the film’s duration is short enough that it all feels quite lean. Not to the point where it feels rushed or sparse, but a wonderful sweet spot that feels just right. That kind of balance is hard to create, but The Browning Version hits the bullseye in that department. I doubt anyone would come looking for action from this one, but the film is dialogue driven and character focused, so not a lot of flash, but the movie nails the areas of substance. I think The Browning Version is a masterful picture with a must see performance, so it earns a high recommendation.
The movie overall is a cinematic treasure, but the crown jewel of the picture is the lead performance from Michael Redgrave. Even if the other aspects of the movie were awful, his incredible effort here would redeem the entire production. He was handed a character that at first glance is unlikable and dull, at least that’s how his peers would describe it, I suppose. Even so, Redgrave brings Andrew to life in a rich, believable fashion, even as the internal turmoil sets in. That is how I would best describe his work here, as he embodies the character so well and so deeply, it is just totally believable. The emotion and lack thereof feel natural and that lets us just buy into the material, sinking into Andrew’s tale. I consider this turn to be a requisite for anyone with a deep love of cinema or the craft of acting, it is simply phenomenal and has only gotten better as it has aged. The cast also includes Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick, Sarah Lawson, and Bill Travers.