Directed By: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Julia Blake, Dorothy Bradley, Kay Eklund
Tag line: "From Henry Handel Richardson's immortal best seller"
Trivia: Approximately six thousand girls were auditioned to play the parts of the turn-of-the-century college school girls in this film
Set in turn-of-the-century Australia, The Getting of Wisdom introduces us to 15-year-old Laura Tweedle Rambotham (Susanna Fowle), who, despite her rural upbringing, is sent to an upper-class boarding school just outside Melbourne. Soon after her arrival, the other girls, including Lilith (Kim Deacon), Kate (Kerry Armstrong), and Maria (Sigrid Thornton), tease Laura incessantly, making fun of both her name (they call her “Tweedledum”) and her dress, which her mother (Kay Eklund) made for her. At first, Laura doesn’t let their insults bother her, but before long she’s trying to impress her classmates by claiming that she and the handsome Rev. Shepherd (John Waters) are having an affair (which is a lie).
Still, despite her ups and downs, Laura always finds solace in her music (she’s a self-trained pianist), and strikes up a friendship with fellow musician Evelyn (Hilary Ryan), who teaches young Laura a good many things, including what it feels like to be in love.
Based on a 1910 novel of the same name written by Henry Handel Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom relates the trials and tribulations of a country girl thrust into upper-class society. A free spirit who loves classic literature, Laura initially ignores the taunts of her classmates, but soon gives in to peer pressure, even going so far as join the others when they tease the school’s next-newest arrival, a girl they nickname “Chinky” (Alix Longman). Interestingly enough, Laura’s self-confidence, which was formidable when she first arrived at the school, begins to wane once she’s accepted into the fold.
Susanna Fowle excels as Laura, conveying the character’s strengths as well as her insecurities, and even though The Getting of Wisdom marked her screen debut, Ms. Fowle does more than hold her own with her more experienced cast mates; she outshines them in each and every scene.
A fan of the book (he supposedly read it when he was a teenager), director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies) does a fine job bringing this story to the screen, crafting a motion picture that’s both a beautiful period piece (the costumes and sets are top-notch) and a well-realized coming of age tale, featuring a main character, and a young performer, you won’t soon forget.