We delve into the life of June, who plays the popular role of Sister George in a mirthful BBC soap opera, but soon finds her life spiralling out of control when producer Mrs Mercy Croft (Coral Browne) tells her that her long-standing character is to be killed off. Disenchanted, June turns to drink and takes much of her problems out on her partner Childie, adding to an already disturbed relationship, where June is quite the dominating force, taking on a stern motherly role, whilst Childie revels in acting naïve and adolescent.
It's easy to see why The Killing of Sister George flirted with controversy upon its release, but it does feel like too much of a contrived attempt to cause a stir. The crux of this story is a woman losing her job and identity. The fact she is a lesbian is almost irrelevant, and that's why this is so wonderfully ahead of its time. Marcus wrote a story that takes an almost unmentionable subject, and places it within ordinary surroundings, thereby normalising it. However, Aldrich shifts the emphasis to the homosexuality, which is counter productive, while also sexualising the story, presenting Childie as a lustful object, swooning around in see-through nightdress. This is superfluous, as it's a lot more effective when we use our imaginations - we don't need to see them kiss to understand their relationship.
Comparisons to the original play aside, as a lone piece of cinema The Killing of Sister George is a timeless, masterfully performed piece. In fairness, it's been more cleverly adapted than many other stage productions, as plays are naturally set over only a handful of scenes and settings and can look stilted on film, yet this expands its horizons intelligently. Although again, sometimes it's what we don't see, and often less can be more.
For more details about the BFI's Uncut season, visit whatson.bfi.org.uk.