The Belles of St. Trinian’s

by Tom Ingram

Genre Comedy
People Alastair Sim; Malcolm Arnold m.; Richard Wattis; Joan Sims; Lloyd Lamble; Arthur Howard; George Cole
/10 8

The headmistress of a girl’s school (Alastair Sim in drag) gets caught up in the gambling schemes of her lawless students when she makes a last-ditch attempt to save the insolvent school by betting all its money on a horse race. A host of veteran British actors play various shady teachers or amoral parents. Based on the cartoons by Ronald Searle.

The movie opens on barely-restrained chaos, and by the end any semblance of order is gone. It exemplifies the style of British comedy that delights in watching bad things happen to a cast chock-full of bad people. The only morally sound person in the movie is irrelevant and frequently hit in the head with a croquet mallet. A depressing metaphor for the world, perhaps, but as a case study in anarchy St Trinian’s is great.

The music by Sir Malcolm Arnold is of a kind rarely seen anymore: completely silent during many of the scenes to make room for the comedy, punctuating transitions between scenes with jaunty tunes, and ramping up the tension when all hell breaks loose at the end. Arnold’s a rarely heard composer, which is a shame. He’s not perfect, but he’s got some nice music.

Aside from Sim as the headmistress (and as the headmistress’s brother), we have George Cole as the shady cockney Flash Harry. Guy Middleton and Arthur Howard are former Ministry of Education inspectors who were sent to see what was going on at the school and never returned. Eric Pohlmann is the fabulously wealthy Sultan of Makyad, owner of the horse that St. Trinian’s money is riding on and father of one of the girls at the school. The comic timing is superb, the lines are just right and delivered in just the right way, and everything is in place. At less than an hour and a half, film is a trifle, but as far as trifles go, it’s pretty good.

1h26m; 1954; B/W