Made in 1978, but not released in the U.S. till 1981 (it was thought there wasn’t a market for a film about British poet Stevie Smith), Stevie is most assuredly a movie for specialized tastes. It’s essentially a two-woman show — with occasional appearances by Trevor Howard and Alec McCowen — and theatrical to the hilt. The two women are Stevie Smith (Glenda Jackson) and her aged aunt (Mona Washbourne), and most of the film consists of conversations between the two interspersed with Stevie talking directly to the camera. Occasionally, the film steps outside to include illustrative moody flashbacks (that have a kind of sub-Ken Russell feel).
Overall, the results seem more like a really classy, really literate TV film than a theatrical work. But is that necessarily a bad thing? In this case, it most certainly isn’t, because so much of the talk is worth hearing. Better still, you get to hear it spoken by one of the most brilliant actresses of modern times, Glenda Jackson — ably abetted by that great character player Mona Washbourne. It makes for a splendid portrait of the eccentric, outspoken and determinedly middle-class Stevie (a love-hate affair if ever there was one), who holds court on every topic from suicide (“I first thought of suicide when I was 8. The thought cheered me up wonderfully”) to religion (“If I’d been the Virgin Mary, I would have said no”) to age (“I don’t mind looking old, I mind looking dead and buried”). All in all it’s a remarkably satisfying portrait of a true English original.
â reviewed by Ken Hanke