The Children’s Hour

17th October 2011

Hi kids, or should I say, children?

Another Monday, another film club, and another interesting and unexpected film choice – we’re all so open-minded! Unlike the majority of the characters in Lucy’s film choice. The Children’s Hour, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine,  was originally released in the UK under the title The Loudest Whisper. The film is set in the early ’60s and tells the story of Martha and Karen, two friends who have worked hard to establish a boarding school for girls, only to have it brought down by the malicious lies of one of their pupils. Mary, a naughty bully, exacts revenge on the teachers after being punished by them, by telling her grandmother that they are in a lesbian relationship. The horrified woman tells all the parents of all the other girls, and all the pupils are rapidly removed from the school. Karen and Martha’s lives fall apart, and the film ultimately ends in tragedy.


The film is based on a play of the same name by Lillian Hellman written in 1934, which was itself based on a real life incident in Edinburgh in 1810. The play was made into film called These Three in 1936, but in order to avoid censorship due to existing restrictions on portraying lesbianism on film the plot was changed to feature a heterosexual love triangle, with Mary accusing Martha of sleeping with Karen’s fiancé. Even when the 1961 film was released the director cut several scenes that hinted more explicitly at Martha’s homosexuality for fear of not receiving approval from the authorities. The play was revived earlier this year in the West End starring Ikea Shitely and ‘that lass from Mad Men.’

The film sparked quite a lot of discussion about treatment of homosexuality, and had the fascists questioning whether very much had changed in people’s attitudes to homosexuality on film and in public life. We touched on Liam Fox, Section 28, and historical attitudes to lesbianism in particular – we are all so erudite! However, we did also descend to slagging off the overacting of Karen Balkin, the child actress who played Mary. Some of you may be pleased to know that young Karen did not pursue a successful career in acting. Jon even went so far as to ponder the facial similarities between Karen and Will Poulter, star of Son of Rambow. Decide for yourselves:


Karen Balkin


Will Poulter

The other major child’s part in the film was played much more convincingly by Veronica Cartwright, who went on to feature in over 100 different films and TV series, including Alien and Flight of the Navigator (love that film!).

Of the two lead actresses, Audrey Hepburn needs no introduction. Interestingly The Children’s Hour was released in the same year as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn’s most famous film. However, some of you might be less familiar with Shirley MacLaine. Interesting facts about her are that she is Warren Beatty’s sister, an Oscar winner, an author and a radio presenter! Some of the fascists saw her in The Apartment at an open air screening at Somerset House earlier this year.

S0, we meet again in 2 weeks’ time at Jess’ pad in Walthamstow for the Halloween ‘Dem-on-ocracy’ spectacular, complete with home grown pumpkin and black cat – mwa ha ha ha! Voting will take place soon…

The all-knowing interweb claims that the title for the play is taken from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of the same name. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I will leave you with a couple of verses from the poem that I think fit the film’s themes of whispering and plotting, and hidden love.

Becca xx


Between the dark and the daylight,

When the night is beginning to lower,

Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,

That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me

The patter of little feet,

The sound of a door that is opened,

And voices soft and sweet.

A whisper, and then a silence:

Yet I know by their merry eyes

They are plotting and planning together

To take me by surprise.

They climb up into my turret

O’er the arms and back of my chair;

If I try to escape, they surround me;

They seem to be everywhere.

I have you fast in my fortress,

And will not let you depart,

But put you down into the dungeon

In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,

Yes, forever and a day,

Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,

And moulder in dust away!

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