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Film / The Killing of Sister George

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The Killing of Sister George is a 1968 drama film based on the British play of the same name by Frank Marcus, directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Beryl Reid, Susannah York, and Coral Browne.

Actress June Buckridge (Reid) has been playing the beloved character of 'Sister George' in the hit BBC soap opera Applehurst for four years. Maybe that's too many, because she's so identifiable as the sweet district nurse that she is even addressed as 'George' backstage. However, June is in fact a rude drunken lesbian who's currently in a semi-abusive relationship with a younger woman named Alice (York), whom she nicknames 'Childie' for her childlike demeanor. Fearing that Sister George may soon get killed off for ratings, June starts acting up both on and off the set, leading network producer Mercy Croft (Browne) to try and convince her to behave—even as she becomes attracted to Alice herself.

While the stage play was a Black Comedy with only four characters and the lesbianism merely hinted at, the film is more of a dark drama presenting a rather negative—if not perverse—look at lesbianism, with a young woman being seduced by predatory older women.

The film was given an X Rating by the newly-formed MPAA film rating system, which resulted in its failure at the box officenote  and selected viewing in the UK. However, Beryl Reid (who'd won a Tony Award playing June on Broadway) received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film.

This film gives examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Compared to the stage play there are many:
    • The play had four characters; the film has many more.
    • The show Applehurst was a radio play but in the movie it's a TV series.
    • The lesbian subtext is made stronger in the movie that results in its sex scene.
  • Adapted Out: In the play there was a character called Madam Xenia who is a clairvoyant that warns of a negative future. She does not appear in the film.
  • The Alcoholic: June is a terrible one. While leaving a script reading drunk, June ends up in trouble sexually assaulting nuns in a taxi, which resulted in her being written out of Applehurst briefly.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: June being a promiscuous lesbian causes the problems in her and Childie's relationship, yet she regularly accuses Childie of cheating.
  • Based on a True Story: There has been several real life events from where George getting killed off might be based on:
    • First off due to the stage play having Applehurst as a radio series could be inspired by one of two examples:
      • In The Archers, Grace Archer was killed in a fire; the original reason was a ratings ploy, as the episode in which it aired was on the same day ITV was to launch, but years later it was also revealed that the actress was complaining of payment.
      • Ellis Powell, the lead of Mrs Dale's Diary, was fired partly due to her drinking and also due to the show's update; Powell died a few months later.
    • Also in television the year of the play's release, on Coronation Street, Martha Longhurst was killed off. Now look up again at what was the series Sister George appeared in called.
  • Beta Couple: June and Alice chat with a fellow lesbian couple at Gateways; they do look a lot like them (an older woman and a younger woman), but it's clear that the June in that relationship isn't insanely jealous of the Alice, but is instead completely comfortable in the relationship.
  • Butch Lesbian: June is this. She smokes cigars, collects horse brasses and is plainly dressed. Also there's plenty in Gateways.
  • The Cameo: Famously, Gateways (the oldest lesbian nightclub in London) appears, and its mangers Gina Cerrato and Smithy have small parts.
  • Casual Kink: June does this to Alice as a game making her sit like a dog and eat her cigar butt. However, it's still portrayed as abusive, especially when June threatens to decapitate a doll.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: When June has her leaving party she is already in a foul mood and has misbehaved when Mrs. Croft reveals that they have a new part for her as a talking cow on a children's TV show. June loses it, thinking the part is being offered to her out of pity.
  • Downer Ending: While Alice leaves June for good, going with the more stable Mercy Croft, June returns to the Applehurst set where she trashes the set and mourns the loss of Alice and her career.
  • Fan Disservice: The sex scene between Alice and Mercy that earned the X rating is anything but attractive. There's a tension-building music, at one point Alice cries out as if in pain and the sense is predatory rather than consenting.
  • Hope Spot: June gets the newest script after her character's illness that looks like Sister George recovers and will be back. She has a huge party at Gateways; however Mercy arrives and reveals that she is going to killed off.
  • I Am Not Spock: In-universe, this is part of the reason June is a terrible person: She is so identified with George that she is called "George" by everyone else, including Alice.
  • It's All About Me: June, no question. Take the iconic scones scene. Because Alice is getting a little attention from Mrs. Croft, it cuts to June's face full of contempt, then finally she snaps and throws her scone at Alice before Mercy tries to defuse the tension.
  • May–December Romance: First we have June and Alice, then later on Mercy and Alice.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: June's Sister George is lovable and seen as a sage for all the characters on her show. However June is a vile abusive drunk. When she gets it into her head that she is to be killed off, she causes trouble, possibly because she realizes her behaviour has broken many bridges with crew and she might never work again.
  • Psycho Lesbian: June is emotionally and physically abusive to Alice, as well as insanely jealous. She can't stand Alice speaking to any women even if they are non-threatening.
  • Older Than They Look: During the confrontation between June, Mercy, and Alice after June catches Mercy and Alice having sex, June tells Mercy that the child that she calls Alice is anything but. She's in her 30's and has a teenage daughter she abandoned. It doesn't stop Alice and Mercy leaving together and abandoning June, though.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: At her leaving party, June lays into everyone after being offered the cow part and later on when she confronts Alice and Mercy.
  • Shout-Out: June and Alice dress as Laurel and Hardy respectively when they go to Gateways.
  • Show Within a Show: Applehurst is a clear parody of any British Soap Opera from the period, with its easy-watching plots and thick accents.