Wednesday, 23 November 2016
The Belles of St Trinian's (1954)
Ronald Searle was a satirical cartoonist who produced a prolific amount of work from the period of the 1940s-1960s. His most famous creation was St Trinian's, an all-girls boarding school where the staff were all sadists and the students all juvenile delinquents.
There have been seven film adaptations of these cartoons; four in the 50s and 60s, then one in 1980 and two more in the first decade of the 2000s. The Belles of St Trinian's is the first of the seven, so it bears most of the burden of establishing the basic concepts of the series. Fortunately those principals are simple enough.
St Trinian's is a boarding school for 'young ladies', run by the largely ineffectual Miss Fritton (who is played by a man). Fritton's approach to discipline in either her staff or students is pretty much non-existent, so everyone there more or less runs riot. The school is eternally in dire financial straits due to the extensive damage it suffers from these exploits, and is kept afloat by pawning the hockey trophies the students win (it being hard to lose when you've hospitalised the entire opposition before the half time bell).
Entering this anarchic world is the Princess Fatima, daughter of the Sultan of Makyad. The Sultan picked the school mostly because it is close to his race horses, and Fatima is frankly about as important to the film as she seems to be to her father. It's those race horses we care about.
Miss Fritton's brother, you see, is a bookmaker who has a lot of cash riding on an upcoming race, and he wants to make sure the Sultan's new horse isn't about to upset his plans. He's aided in this by his daughter, a student at the school, and her 6th form cronies, whose penchant for figure-hugging attire was probably considered quite racy in 1954.
On the other side of the equation are 4th form girls, who have pooled their pocket money to back the Sultan's horse, and Miss Fritton herself. It seems the 10:1 odds she was able to get would be enough to (temporarily) restore the school's finances.
Throw in missing inspectors from the Ministry of Education, and an undercover policewoman, and blend at high speed without the lid on, and you've got the basic recipe for a St Trinian's film.
Given the film's age, some of the humour in this is understandably dated, but The Belles of St Trinian's is still a fun bit of farce. It's kind of like an all ages version of one of the (better) Carry On films, right down to featuring several of the same actors.