Andrew Crocker-Harris is an aging Classics master at an English public school, and is forced into retirement by his increasing ill health. The film, in common with the original stage play, follows the schoolmaster's final few days in his post, as he comes to terms with his sense of failure as a teacher, a sense of weakness exacerbated by his wife's infidelity and the realization that he is despised by both pupils and staff of the school.
The emotional turning-point for the cold Crocker-Harris is his pupil Taplow's unexpected parting gift, Robert Browning's translation of the Agamemnon, which he has inscribed with the Greek phrase that translates as "God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master."
Rattigan extends the screenplay far from his own one-act play, which ends on Crocker-Harris's tearful reaction to Taplow's gift. Therefore, the play ends well before Crocker-Harris's farewell speech to the school; the film shows the speech, in which he discards his notes and admits his failings, to be received with warm applause and cheers by the boys. The film ends with a conversation between Crocker-Harris and Taplow, and the suggestion that Crocker-Harris will complete his translation of the Agamemnon.Michael Redgrave as the embittered Andrew Crocker-Harris
Jean Kent as his wife Millie
Nigel Patrick as her lover Frank Hunter, Andrew's fellow schoolmaster who eventually rejects Millie for her cruelty towards her husband
Ronald Howard as Gilbert, Crocker-Harris's successor
Wilfrid Hyde-White as the Headmaster
Brian Smith as Taplow
Bill Travers as Fletcher
Judith Furse as Mrs. Williamson
Peter Jones as Carstairs
Sarah Lawson as Betty Carstairs
Scott Harold as Rev. Williamson
Paul Medland as Wilson
Ivan Samson as Lord Baxter
Josephine Middleton as Mrs. Frobisher
Rattigan and Asquith encountered a lack of enthusiasm from producers to turn the play into a film until they met Earl St John at Rank.
"I started out as manager of a small out-of-town cinema, and I viewed films from the out-of-London angle," said St John. "This experience made me realise that the ordinary people in the remotest places in the country were entitled to see the works of the best modern British playwrights."
Eric Portman originated the role on stage but turned down the film role. Margaret Lockwood was originally meant to play the role of Millie but turned down the part. Jean Kent played it instead.
The film was shot at Pinewood Studios. The school exteriors were filmed on location at the Sherborne School in Sherborne, Dorset.
The Greek text that appears on the blackboard in Crocker-Harris's classroom is from the Agamemnon. Apparently a description of Menelaus's despair after his abandonment by Helen, the lines were translated by Robert Browning thus:
"And, through desire of one across the main,Won
Cannes Film FestivalBest Actor (Michael Redgrave)
Berlin International Film FestivalBronze Berlin Bear (Drama)
Small Bronze Plate
Cannes Film Festival - Palme d'Or
A ghost will seem within the house to reign.
And hateful to the husband is the grace
Of well-shaped statues: from—in place of eyes
Those blanks—all Aphrodite dies."