Goodbye to Goodbye, Mr. Chips Adaptations

Welcome to the fourth and final part of my series of analyzing various adaptations of Goodbye, Mr. Chips and how they hold up to the 1939 movie version. It was an interesting journey to take, but I’m glad that I did it because it made me appreciate the art of adapting a book to the screen even more.

To summarize, I watched the 1939 black-and-white film, the 1969 movie musical, the 1984 BBC miniseries, and the 2002 Masterpiece Theatre television flick.

I came up with these conclusions after watching all 4 versions:

  1. No matter if it’s in the novella and the subsequent adaptations, Katherine will always have that “I’m-not-like-most-schoolmasters’ wives” vibe to her. This is usually code for saying that she’s beautiful, which carries a level of sexism and misogyny (*cough 1939 film). The 1969, 1984, and 2002 adaptations give her more to do, so she stands out in various ways like being a theatre person or simply wanting to improve the students’ well being through unique ways. Also, the 1984 miniseries had the best Katherine since not only does Jill Meager is charming in the role, but she also brings the spryness that allows Katherine to show Chips the ways that he could enjoy life and to see other perspectives. 
  2. Despite the age difference between Mr. Chips and Katherine, they are two consenting adults. They respect each other and don’t take advantage of each other as well as other people.
  3. Even though each actor playing the titular character brought out certain sides, Robert Donat is still the best Mr. Chips. He embodies the sentimental, the sternness, the somberness, and realism when each of those are required. He also gets bonus points for the warmth and humor of the interpretation. However, I would say Martin Clunes comes the closest because his portrayal is the most layered, while capturing everything else.
  4. Although none of the adaptations are perfect, certain versions perform specific story beats more effectively than others. For example, I think the moment in which Mr. Chips finds out that Katherine has died is best expressed in the 1969 version. Also, the flashbacks are best utilized in the 1984 miniseries, and the confrontation between Chips and Headmaster Ralston is the most impactful in the 2002 television movie. Nonetheless, 1939 movie version still does many of the plot points most effectively, especially when capturing the relationship between Mr. Chips and the students, the first meeting between him and Katherine, and the ending.
  5. Even though the 1939 adaptation is the most definitive, the 2002 version is the one that comes the closest to capturing the spirit of the novella in its own way.
  6. Bonus! Here’s my one word to describe each of the adaptations covered. 1939: sentimental. 1969: misguided. 1984: somber. 2002: realistic.

It was fun taking a look at each of these adaptations, but it’s time to go, so I’ll leave you with this clip. Goodbye, Mr. Chips!

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Published by emilymalek

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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