The Killing of Sister George (1968)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Mon, Apr 23 at IFC Center's Queer/Art/Film
While The Killing of Sister George is striking for a number of reasons, the main draw is Beryl Reid's volcanic lead performance. As June Buckridge, the most popular character on a long-running televised soap opera, Reid demands attention. Her performance is the primary source of the jealousy and rage fueling Robert Aldrich's adaptation of Frank Marcus's stage play.
As an aging actress, Buckridge anticipates that her character will be killed off at any moment. Additionally, as the panic-stricken lover of Alice McNaught (flirty Sussanah York), Buckridge lives in constant fear of being left behind for a phantom other woman. Without even realizing it, the outsized tantrums Buckridge pitches makes her the target that she imagines she already is.
Scenes like the now infamous cigarette-eating punishment are as powerful as they are because of Reid's shrill diatribes. Her stern tone and insistent squint almost single-handedly carry the weight of Aldrich's plus-sized 140-minute adaptation. We squirm with catty glee at the sight of York faking an orgasm while swallowing a lit butt. Still, Reid's incantatory, pathetic howling is what lends that scene its emotional heft.