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An overweight woman in her early twenties dreams of being loved but despite her continual attempts to find romance finds herself observing life from the sidelines, barely noticed by those around her. Reduced to a one sentence description, Georgy Girl (1966) sounds dreary and depressing but on-screen this tale of a desperately lonely woman unfolds as a madcap, often irreverent farce which at times is cruelly indifferent to the sad-sack characters it parades before us. This is a film where tone is everything and Georgy Girl, directed by Silvio Narizzano, is distinctively different in this respect, standing out from countless other cinematic tearjerkers about ugly ducklings and lonely spinsters. The film also captures London at the height of the Swingin' Sixties when everything seemed like a put-on or a come-on.
Georgy Girl was Lynn Redgrave's first starring role and her exuberant performance won her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress that year (she was up against her own sister Vanessa in Morgan! but they lost to Elizabeth Taylor for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). The film was also a mid-career highpoint for James Mason in the supporting role of James Leamington, the wealthy employer of Georgy's parents and a love struck suitor who wants Georgy to be his mistress. Mason later admitted that "not since The Seventh Veil (1946) had I been connected with such a palpable hit." Not only did he receive top billing over his co-stars in the credits but his performance was also Oscar nominated (in the Best Supporting Actor category).
In the biography James Mason: Odd Man Out by Sheridan Morley, Lynn Redgrave recalled the filming of Georgy Girl and her admiration for James Mason: "I couldn't have had a better start than with James. From the very first day on the set he treated me as an equal, never patronizing but always ready with advice and encouragement if you seemed to need it. They kept pulling the plug on the film because they said that James and I and Alan Bates didn't add up to much at the box office, but in the end we got it made because of James's enthusiasm for the quirkiness of the story, and the chance it gave him to go back to his Yorkshire accent. He took very little money for it, and we all thought it was just going to be a low-budget release, so when it became such a huge success it was all the more lovely for those of us who'd always had faith in it. James made me feel that if I tried I could do anything, even sing that song, and he told me always to close my eyes just before the camera started to roll. First because it would help to concentrate my mind on the scene, and second it would make my pupils look bigger and better. I've always remembered to do that."
No less important to the success of Georgy Girl were Alan Bates and Charlotte Rampling in supporting roles and who were still relatively unknown actors at the time. Bates, cast as the irresponsible Jos, would become a leading man within the year, scoring excellent reviews for his work in King of Hearts (1966) and Far From the Madding Crowd (1967). By the end of the decade, he had proved himself to be one of England's most powerful dramatic actors, thanks to outstanding performances in Women in Love (1969) and The Go-Between (1970). Charlotte Rampling, on the other hand, playing Georgy's bitchy roommate Meredith, didn't emerge as a major actress until her controversial role in The Night Porter opposite Dirk Bogarde in 1974. However, her cynical presence in Georgy Girl is unforgettable. From her unapologetic pursuit of hedonist pleasure to the total contempt she feels for her own pregnant state, Rampling's Meredith is a completely amoral creature, one whose behavior shocked some moviegoers at the time, particularly her mean-spirited remarks about abortion, marriage and relationships.
But Georgy Girl is no saint herself and she's anything but a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing herself, no matter how awkward and painful it might be. In an interview with Leonard Probst, Redgrave later admitted that she saw Georgy as "very ruthless. Most people saw her as a sweet softie. I don't think she was a softie at all. She was manipulating and very shrewd. People loved her, I think, because they recognized their own terrible faults and were glad to see them put up on the screen."
Yet, in spite of the film's huge success, not all critics were in love with Georgy Girl. Pauline Kael was one of the few reviewers to question the film's ambivalent tone and wrote, "At Georgy Girl you may find yourself laughing but intermittently, in discomfort or even stupefaction, asking yourself, "What are they doing in this movie? Do they know what they're doing?" They're obviously very clever, very talented, but what's going on?...Lack of control is made grotesquely cute." Still, the majority opinion was best summed up by London's Daily Express which stated that "the whole film is a delight." In addition to Redgrave and Mason's Oscar nominations, Georgy Girl also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (Ken Higgins) and Best Song, which went on to become a top forty hit recorded by The Seekers.
Producer: Robert A. Goldston, Otto Plaschkes
Director: Silvio Narizzano
Screenplay: Margaret Forster, Peter Nichols
Art Direction: Tony Woollard
Cinematography: Kenneth Higgins
Costume Design: Mary Quant
Film Editing: John Bloom
Original Music: Alexander Faris, Tom Springfield
Principal Cast: Lynn Redgrave (Georgy), Alan Bates (Jos), James Mason (James Leamington), Charlotte Rampling (Meredith), Bill Owen (Ted), Clare Kelly (Doris), Rachel Kempson (Ellen).
by Jeff Stafford