THE GETTING OF WISDOM -- At the Key in Georgetown.
If you loved "My Brilliant Career," you still won't necessarily like "The Getting of Wisdom," another Australian movie about another commanding young woman artist growing up in another Victorian milieu. It's the same general idea, but neither as beautiful nor as eventful.
This film, made two years earlier in 1977 with the same script writer, is like a rough draft of "My Brilliant Career," in which the idea of an individualistic young woman wresting her freedom from a rigidly ordered society hasn't yet been worked out. It's based on the autobiographical novel of Ethel Richardson Robertson (written under the pen name of H. H. Richardson) and has strong actresses, particularly the solemn presence of Susannah Fowls. But the film has no center because it fails to show why this particular soul was worth developing.
It covers the years she spends at a women's college, between her departure from a humble home and her departure for the wider world of Europe, where she is to become a musician. All of the wisdom she gets from this experience is of negative value. Having started out rude and show-offy, she becomes, under the influence of the school's selfish, closed-minded staff and students, sycophantic, mean, snobbish and dishonest. In the last scene before her triumphant graduation, we see her cheating on final exams.
A touch of humor or a tone of irony, acknowledging the heroine's youthful weakness, might have helped make her likeable. But sympathetic or not, she might still have been of interest if there were a hint of how the tedious, repetitious and trivial episodes of this schooling affected her true development as an artist. Unless we are to believe that she will go on to be an imitative musician, abandoning all standards in the quest of popularity, the real story -- of what she has had to unlearn -- has not yet begun.