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Film / The Killing of Sister George

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

June Buckridge (Reid) has played the beloved character 'Sister George' in the hit BBC soap opera Applehurst for four years. Maybe that's too many, because she is so identifiable as the sweet district nurse that she is even called 'George' backstage. However, she is in fact a rude drunken lesbian in an sadistic relationship with a younger woman named Alice (York), who acts childlike and is thus nicknamed 'Childie'. Fearing that Sister George might be killed off for ratings, June starts acting up, but after she causes trouble outside the set, producer Mercy Croft (Browne) tries to convince June to behave. However she ends up attracted to Alice herself.

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While the stage play was a Black Comedy that only had four characters and the lesbianism only hinted at, the movie was a dark drama presenting a rather negative, maybe perverse, look at lesbianism where a young woman is seduced by older predatory women.

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


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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.
  • 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 is regularly accusing 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.
  • Butch Lesbian: June is this. She smokes cigars, collects horse brasses and is plainly dressed. Also there's plenty in Gateways.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted in fact this is one of the few gay movies that ends without the gay characters dying off.
  • 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.
  • Chewing the Scenery: June does this on the day when they shoot George's death scene.
  • The Ditz: Alice is clearly emotionally dependent on June which doesn't help her behaviour.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: When June has her leaving party she is already in a fowl mood and has misbehaved when Mrs. Croft reveals that they have a new part for her as a talking cow on children's TV and she loses it thinking it's a handout.
  • 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.
  • 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 this way to Alice. She can't stand Alice speaking to any women even if they are non threatening.
  • Older Than They Look: During June's confrontation of Mercy and Alice after catching them having sex, she 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 them leaving together.
  • "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.

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