Synopsis: June Buckridge (Beryl Reid) has spent so many years portraying a kind-hearted nurse on the BBC soap opera Applehurst that even in real life everyone has taken to calling her by her character’s name – Sister George. However, off screen George is nothing like her saintly fictional counterpart, appearing drunk in public and forcing her younger lover Alice “Childie” McNaught (Susannah York) into cruel and twisted games. When the fictional George is slated to be killed off due to low ratings, the real George also begins to come apart at the seams. With Childie becoming increasingly defiant and her boss Mrs. Croft (Coral Browne) encroaching on both her professional and personal territory, George fears her days as a beloved actress and parent-like provider to Childie are numbered.
I considered making this a one-word review, but “ick” doesn’t really come close to describing how uncomfortable this film made me. The lead character is a total monster with no redeeming qualities; she drinks constantly, she has no regard for what is and isn’t appropriate behavior, she’s sadistic and abusive – and none of it in a fun way. Her girlfriend Childie is pathetic and poorly written as a character, and Mrs. Croft is just your typical predatory-older-lesbian stereotype. This movie was directed by Robert Aldrich, who of course scored a hit six years prior with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and again in 1964 with Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. While he proved with these two previous endeavors that films which are somewhat exploitative and which appeal to baser sensibilities can still be enjoyable (and how!), here he doesn’t have the star power or the outright horror context that made those two films successful, and his directing brought into the light of day seems hokey and amateurish. While this film is somehow considered “historic” for its explicit portrayal of a lesbian relationship, in absolutely no way is this a healthy or positive portrayal, so what’s so special about it? I mean, I really don’t understand what’s so groundbreaking about making queer people look bad. I do give it points for the stellar performances by Beryl Reid and the recently-late Susannah York – even if I hated or didn’t understand their characters, I still think they did a great job at portraying them – and for the few scenes shot in the authentic 1960s underground lesbian bar the Gateways Club. But otherwise this was an utterly joyless film and, at two hours and twenty minutes, utterly torturous to sit through. Maybe I’m just not cut out for 1960s “black comedies” set in working-class Britain, since they seem intent on exploring themes that make me squirm. If you’re into that sort of thing, maybe you’ll like this one, but I certainly can’t recommend it from my perspective. Like its title character, The Killing of Sister George is just unrelentingly awful the whole way through.
The Killing of Sister George (1968) – 1.5/5 stars