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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
The Getting of Wisdom
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Wellspring 1980 DVD/VHS Feature Film
The Getting of Wisdom is based on Henry Handel Richardson's classic Australian novel. The setting is turn-of-the-century Melbourne where rural bred Laura Rambotham (Susanna Fowle) is sent to a Victorian girl's school. She is immediately ridiculed for her outrageous clothing and her obvious ignorance of high society mores. To make up for these flaws, Laura tires to shine in the classroom and in the observatory where she plays the piano with brilliance. Willing to do almost anything to win the favor of her peers, she fabricates an affair with the handsome new minister and through luck wins a weekend visit with him and his family. However, even this ploy fails when another girl learns the truth about the minister he's an arrogant cold duck.
Rumor spreading during adolescence is often as skillful and malicious as it was at the Medici Court. Reputations are made and broken with the same great speed that secrets are shared, distorted, and betrayed. The Getting of Wisdom explores this aspect of growing up with laser sharp acuity.
Susannah Fowle's revealing portrait gathers together some of the most painful sides of trying to win the approval of one's peers. The one friend Laura does convince is kicked out of school for stealing money to buy her a gift. In the end, Laura settles down with Evelyn Souttar (Hilary Ryan), a wealthy and solitary senior. But here again, she overplays her hand; she becomes overly dependent upon Evelyn and drives her away. The irony of the film's finale is that our heroine, who has now learned how to lie, cheat,, compete, hate, and betray, wins the school's graduation awards and accolades. The wisdom she has gained from her peers is questionable. Still she survives with some of her idiosyncrasies intact, winning half the battle of growing up.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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