Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939)


‘Goodbye Mr Chips, Goodbye’

Sam Wood directs this romantic drama about a British school teacher Mr Chipping or ‘Mr Chips’ (Robert Donat) who looks back on his career as a headmaster at eighty three years old, bed bound by a cold.

He begins his career at 25 years old as a Latin teacher  at Brookwood public school in 1870. Becoming the target to many practical jokes, he enforces discipline and is gradually respected over time by his pupils. Whilst out climbing, he meets a beautiful young woman called Kathy Ellis (played by the fabulous Greer Garson) who is on a cycling holiday. They meet again in Vienna and dance the Blue Danube Waltz. This functions as a leitmotif (basically, a reoccurring piece of music associated with a person, place or idea for all non film buffs out there) to represent Mr Chips’ love for Kathy. The two are almost binary oppositions to each other; he is getting old and lacks enthusiasm, whereas Kathy is young and lively and finds an enthusiastic means to everything. Never the less, the two get married and return to England where she takes up residance at the school. Everyone, especially the boys find her charming and I find it especially sweet where Kathy insists that the boys are invited round for tea.

However, as is the case in so many films, Mr Chips’ happiness is short lived when Kathy dies in childbirth alongside their  baby. Kathy’s death scene is not shown, only represented by a closed door and Mr Chips coming mournfully out of it. He insists that he returns to school, despite the tragedy. The close up of his face with the chattering boys puts a lump in your throat. However, Kathy taught Chippy to come out of his shell and become a better teacher; this driving force to develop a bond with generations of pupils. Mr Chips wanted to retire in 1914 but is asked back to school to teach due to the outbreak of the First World War and the lack of teachers. He smiles when he remembers that Kathy predicted that he would become headmaster one day.

He keeps the pupils hopes up during the war years and reads aloud the names of the former boys and teachers who have died in battle in chapel every Sunday. Eventually he retires permanently in 1918. The film ends in 1933 with Mr Chips on his deathbed. He can hear his friends talking above him ‘Poor old chap. He must have had a lonely life all by himself…pity he didnt have any children.’ Mr Chips replies weakly ‘  I thought I heard you saying it was a pity… pity I never had any children. But you’re wrong. I have. Thousands of them. Thousands of them… and all boys.’ At this point, if you’re like me, the tears start flowing as the camera pans up to show a montage style of the generations of boys Mr Chips has taught and the non digetic sound of boys singing the school hymn  (or possibly angels welcoming Mr Chips to heaven). The boy (cant remember his name) who Mr Chips is seen to have tea with in the previous scene turns round, smiling saying ‘Goodbye Mr Chips, Goodbye’ as he dies and the film ends (and the tears flow).

I have seen this film three times to date, and was introduced to it by my two sisters, mum and grandparents  who kept talking about it. You would thing, having done a film degree, I would have seen this film countless times but I haven’t. I liked Donat’s somewhat effective transformation as a thirty four year old actor  managing to age over a period of sixty three years. Garson’s portrayal as the young woman who manages to influence Mr Chips but dies in childbirth was a good one too and their first meeting is to me, quite unconventional but sweet. The film, as emphasised by the second half reinforces how one person’s influence can have a positive effect on generations of people. The ending of course is very sad as he lies dying saying that the pupils he taught were his children. In the 2002 adaptation instead of the boy saying goodbye to Mr Chips, he sees his wife Cathy opening her arms out to him as she welcomes him to heaven (still very sad, but the 1940s ending was slightly better in a way because it emphasised his fatherly position of the generations of boys).

Overall, a fantastic film, a great one for a lazy Sunday afternoon or if you want a good cry. And many thanks to my sisters, grandparents and mum for introducing me to it. It was also based on a 1934 novel of the same name.

My rating: 5/5

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