Cast & Crew
Photos & Videos
Aging actress June Buckridge portrays nurse Sister George on a popular British soap opera. Although "George" has a lovable image on the BBC, she is actually a hard-drinking, acid-tongued lesbian who constantly quarrels with her dependent roommate and lover, 32-year-old Alice "Childie" McNaught. Fearful that her part might be written out of the series, George leaves a rehearsal, gets drunk, and terrorizes two nuns in a taxi. Acting on a complaint from the church, network executive Mercy Croft visits George's flat, insists on an apology, and hints at cast changes in the show due to a slip in the ratings. Dejected, George tells her troubles to Betty Thaxter, a sympathetic prostitute who lives next door. When she discovers that the new script only calls for her to get the flu and recover, George celebrates with Childie at a lesbian bar and flippantly invites Mrs. Croft to join them. Ignoring the club's atmosphere, the executive announces that Sister George is to be killed in a highway accident the following week. Devastated by the news, George rushes from the bar as Mrs. Croft offers Childie her protection. Once Sister George's death scene has been filmed, George is given a studio party and asked if she would like to be the voice of Clarabelle Cow on a new television series. Enraged, she storms out of the studio, returns to her flat, and discovers Mrs. Croft making love to Childie in the bedroom. After a bitter confrontation, Childie decides to move in with Mrs. Croft, and George returns to the now deserted studio, where she wrecks the sets before collapsing on a bench. Accepting her fate as Clarabelle Cow, George sits alone bellowing a pathetic "moooo."
John W. Brown
The Killing of Sister George
The title sounds like it could be one of those cheap horror knock-offs that sprang up after the success of Aldrich's Hollywood gothic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). In fact, the killing of the title is more metaphorical than real. Reid plays a popular British TV star who plays a lovable character named Sister George in a long-running soap opera. Although her character is well loved by the public, the actress, June Buckridge, is a loud, aggressive, hard-drinking and unapologetic lesbian given to scandalous public incidents. The show's producers decide to kill off Sister George, which could put an end to June's career. The cunning predatory producer Mercy Croft poses an even greater threat to the aging actress because of her interest in June's childlike lover Alice (appropriately dubbed "Childie"), the one person who gives June's life meaning.
Despite Reid's award-winning stage performance, Aldrich encountered resistance to her recreating the role on film. She was well-known in England, where the film was shot and financed, so her lack of box office name stateside was not the issue so much as the perception that she was more suited to the light comedies she had often taken on up to that point in her career (including a stint on The Benny Hill Show). But Aldrich was determined to have her in the picture, even to ignoring the reported desire of Bette Davis, his Baby Jane star, to land the role. (Angela Lansbury was also reportedly in line for the part.) His faith in Reid was well rewarded with a complex, wrenching, darkly comic performance that earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
The role of Childie was a stretch for Susannah York, who had been seen largely in ingénue parts to that point. Apparently, the intense lesbian sex scene she had to play with Coral Browne (as Mercy Croft) so unnerved her that she frequently ran from the set in tears. That scene caused some headaches for Aldrich, too. Beyond wrangles with both UK and US censors (who gave the film an X rating on its initial release), the director also had a falling out with his longtime friend and collaborator, composer Frank De Vol, who had written the music for nine previous Aldrich pictures. The love scene reportedly so upset De Vol that he quit the production, and a new composer, Gerald Fried, had to be brought in to write the score. De Vol went on to the far less disturbing task of writing music for The Brady Bunch TV series but returned to Aldrich for Ulzana's Raid (1972) and six subsequent features.
Whatever discomforts the cast may have felt working with such strong gay subject matter must have been shed in light of The Killing of Sister George's critical success and impressive box office receipts. Susannah York took on another female-on-female seduction scene with no less than Elizabeth Taylor in X, Y, and Zee (aka Zee and Co., 1972), though it was considerably toned down in explicitness compared to The Killing of Sister George. Coral Browne played herself in one of the best gay-themed pieces of its time, John Schlesinger's TV film An Englishman Abroad (1983), a recounting of Browne's real-life encounter with defected gay British spy Guy Burgess (Alan Bates) during a theatrical tour she made of the Soviet Union. And Reid played one-third of a sexually fluid triangle in the film adaptation of gay playwright Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1970).
The Killing of Sister George is hardly a "positive" view of lesbianism but it was a groundbreaking drama for its time. On the other hand, despite its share of bitchy dialogue and stereotypical butch/femme posturing, Aldrich's picture does not set out to condemn, laugh at or otherwise criticize lesbians. The characters are what they are, warts and all, because of their own individual foibles and circumstances and not because of their sexuality. The fact that the story takes place in the deceitful, uncertain world of show business (a theme Aldrich often returned to) only adds to its sense of desperation and despair. In other words, audiences looking for well-adjusted, sympathetic gay characters are not going to find them here, but they aren't going to be subjected to gay serial killers either.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Producer: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Lukas Heller, based on the play by Frank Marcus
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Editing: Michael Luciano
Art Direction: William Glasgow
Original Music: Gerald Fried
Cast: Beryl Reid (June Buckridge), Susannah York (Childie McNaught), Coral Browne (Mercy Croft), Patricia Medina (Betty Thaxter), Ronald Fraser (Leo Lockhart).
by Rob Nixon
The Killing of Sister George
Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know.- Alice
That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!- George
What's one looking for then, love and affection?- Betty Thaxter
I suppose you could put it like that, yes.- George
Oh. I think I need a drink now.- Betty Thaxter
I collect horse brasses.- George
Oh, how useful.- Mercy Croft
People are always telling me how cheerful you look, riding around on your bike.- Mercy Croft
Well, you'd look cheerful too with fifty cubic centimeters throbbing away between your legs!- George
Hello Crofters!- George
Location scenes filmed in London.
Released in United States 1994
Released in United States July 1996
Released in United States June 15, 1989
Released in United States Winter December 1968
Shown at New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film June 15, 1989.
Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.
Released in United States 1994 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "Apocalypse Anytime! The Films of Robert Aldrich" March 11 - April 8, 1994.)
Released in United States June 15, 1989 (Shown at New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film June 15, 1989.)
Released in United States July 1996 (Shown at Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival July 11-21, 1996.)
Released in United States Winter December 1968