Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Corn is Green (1979): The Television Movie



The Corn is Green, in its brief running time, tells a rich and beautiful story so well, with such effective performances and breathtaking scenery, that it transcends its play origins and becomes the moving tale it seeks to be.

Spinster Lily Moffatt (Katharine Hepburn) comes to a Welsh town after inheriting a small estate. Along with her reformed maid Watty (Patricia Hayes) and Watty's shrewish daughter Bessie (Toyah Willcox), Miss Moffatt sets up her new residence. 

Miss Moffatt quietly and elegantly barrels through all opposition to set up a school for the community despite firm opposition from the local squire (Bill Fraser), with only her attorney Mr. Jones (Artro Morris) and another unwed woman, Miss Ronsberry (Anna Massey) to help. The local community too is a bit hesitant, but among the adults there is one who has a spark of genius buried under the coal dust.

Morgan Evans (Ian Saynor) is like the other men in the village: the mines and the pub are his life, but he also has a quiet, unique writing manner and a thirst for knowledge. Miss Moffatt soon takes him under her perhaps excessively protective wing, filling his mind with vast knowledge. It soon, however, becomes too much for him, and he has a one-night stand with Bessie. 

A chance for an Oxford education comes his way, but there are complications. First, is his own self-doubt. Second, there's his and Bessie's love child, which no one knew about before she left. Despite not loving him or the baby, Bessie demands Morgan marry her, which means sacrificing the chance for an education. It is here that Miss Moffat must rally herself to impart her most important information and save many lives.

The Corn is Green was filmed on location in Wales, and the production takes full advantage of it. The telefilm is one of the most beautiful I have seen. It is a bright, sunlight production, one where you can almost feel the breeze in the air. It is one where nothing is dirty, the closest is when we see early shots of boys going down the mineshaft. Apart from that, The Corn is Green is bathed in light, where even the interior scenes have a brightness to them. Perhaps this is metaphor for the story itself, of light coming into the life of Morgan Evans. 

The lightness and brightness extends to the performances. The Corn is Green is one of Katharine Hepburn's great autumnal works, her iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove manner played if not for laughs at least with an almost addled touch. We can see Miss Moffatt's intelligence, warmth and caring, but she is also not about to suffer fools gladly. Her evolution with the Squire, from well-earned hostility to a touch of warmth works well.

Miss Moffatt is not afraid to call him a nincompoop when he gets in her way, but she also uses the Squire's sexism and arrogance against him by playing something of a "damsel in distress" when whittling him to essentially serve as Morgan's patron. By using his ignorance and ego to her own plans, Hepburn shows a knowing, wry touch. 

When working with Saynor, she also displays in turns a motherly yet at times pushy manner, yet you immediately fall in love with Miss Moffatt. Hepburn can insult people with the nicest words, such as when she hoodwinks Miss Ronsberry to be her teacher's aide. Insisting that she might still find a man to marry (and rule over her), Miss Moffatt almost cheerfully replies, "If you're a spinster well on in her 30's, he's lost his way and he isn't coming". Hepburn enlivens Miss Moffatt into being a nice, bright light, one that wants to give people a chance to succeed when society pushes them under the ground, physically and mentally as one character observes.

She is more than matched by Saynor. He seamlessly transitions from the poor Welsh miner who appears hostile to the idea of education to the intelligent, sensitive man he has grown to be. The evolution from miner to scholar works well with Saynor, and in their scenes he and Hepburn show both the joys and struggles of the mentor/student relationship. He makes you believe that he could think "teached" is correct, and she in turn shows gently that it is "taught".

Every performance is excellent and one can see that age had not withered director George Cukor's style. He was at least 79 when he directed The Corn is Green, but there is a youthful vitality and joy in the film that belies the notion that he or the story were old. There is life in the film, a bright inspirational one, and John Barry's beautiful music enhances the production.

The Corn is Green is a story filled with light and joy on the enlightenment of one man, both intellectual and moral. With standout performances by its two leads and its bright, open space, The Corn is Green is as inspirational a tale as has been seen.


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