(Henry Hitchings article appeared in the Evening Standard, 7/14/09.)
There can be few English institutions more mysterious to the uninitiated than the public school (now a misnomer), and Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version evokes its creaky protocols and ruthlessness in a manner that, against expectation, seems no less trenchant today than it must have done when the play premiered more than 60 years ago.
Andrew Crocker-Harris is a senior master on the brink of leaving his job at a smart boarding school to go and teach in a crammer. Afflicted with a heart condition, goaded by a viciously snobbish wife, who is dallying with one of his junior colleagues, and oppressed by the memory of having once been a stellar classical scholar, he is the epitome of the teacher whose unappreciated efforts have led to pedantic self-loathing.
Crocker-Harris is doomed to mediocrity by nothing more than a couple of bad choices and a stoical sense of duty. But his relegation to the Siberia of pedagogy is there for all to see: his colleagues can commend him on little except his planning of the school timetable.