The Children’s Hour (1961)

8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Interesting story for its time that still holds weight

Some might want it to tackle the issue more directly

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Children’s Hour

Studio:  United Aritsts

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  December 19, 1961

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


Secrets can destroy

Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) and Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) are school teachers at a private girls’ school.  Karen is engaged to the town’s doctor Dr Joe Cardin (James Garner), and they are finally talking about marriage and children.  When they are forced to punish a problem student named Mary (Karen Balkin), Mary tells her grandmother Amelia Tilford (Fay Bainter) a lie about the relationship between Martha and Karen which sets into motion a series of events that will destroy their world…but can rumors sometimes bet the truth?


What did you see?

Directed by William Wyler, The Children’s Hour adapts the 1934 stage play by Lillian Hellmen and is based on a real event which occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1810.  The play had previously been film as These Three in 1936 and received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Bainter), Best Cinematography—Black-and-White, Best Costume Design—Black-and-White, Best Art Direction—Black-and-White, and Best Sound.

With a touchy subject in a time when it couldn’t be talked about, The Children’s Hour is a rather interesting film.  The movie is forced to sidestep the real mention of lesbians and homosexuality and is forced to imply it through whispers and clever working like “unnatural”.


A great performance by MacLaine

This movie could easily be reworked for a modern telling because there is something still very topical about it.  The idea of how fast lies can spread and the damage they do in the age of internet somehow feels topical.  Some criticized that all the action takes place off the screen, but I think not knowing about the trial and the actual lie whispered by the girl is better.  Also, in today’s world, it is a bit easier to see that MacLaine’s character is a lesbian and into Hepburn’s character…I however like that the writing is more ambiguous if Hepburn’s character is just hiding her feelings.


Well, this hasn’t been the best weekend…

The cast is also quite strong.  Only Fay Bainter was recognized by Oscars as the distraught grandmother who buys her granddaughter’s story, but Hepburn and MacLaine in particular give great performances as the teachers.  Also giving a great performance is James Garner as Hepburn’s fiancé who is caught in the middle.  Garner had sued Warner Bros. to get released from Maverick and this movie helped break a unspoken blacklist against him in Hollywood.  Playing MacLaine’s aunt Lily is Miriam Hopkins who played the Shirley MacLaine role in the 1936 film.  Rounding out the cast are the children, Karen Balkin plays the spiteful Mary and Veronica Cartwight is in one of her earliest roles as the girl who’s forced to go along with her story.


So…heard any good jokes not involving us?

The movie was shot in black-and-white and that was probably a good idea since it makes it feel older.  The subject was taboo and the older the movie feels, the more risqué it seems.  Since most of the things occurring in the film are implied, the filmmakers also did a good job shooting it in a classy style.

The Children’s Hour might not be the best film you’ll ever see, but it is rather interesting.  It seems quite surprising for its time, and despite having big stars in the lead roles, it is a relatively obscure title (though the play is still performed recently with Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss).  If you get a chance, check it out, and rediscover this small film.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response