The Revision Redux: St. Trinian’s

The Wildcats of St. Trinian’s (1980)

It’s fascinating how many times the cartoons of Ronald Searle’s St. Trinian’s have been adapted on film given there really aren’t that many of the cartoons themselves.

The last of the original St. Trinian’s movies was in 1966. The Wildcats of St. Trinian’s (1980, directed by Frank Launder) has no real connection to the original four, other than the general concept and that Launder returned as director.

The earlier ones aren’t without their issues but I have no idea what happened here.

In my notes, I wrote “I feel like there’s a version of this that’s porn.” It definitely focuses more on the students of the school, but not always in a good way. There are plenty of shots of the other students with their garters exposed. There is some vague nudity (from behind and there’s topless photoshoot we then see a blurry image of — there’s no nipples visible). There is also an odd scene where a teacher has a thermometer stuck in her butt & is left that way for quite a while.

All of this is weird because it’s also mostly a kids’ movie.

The plot involves the St. Trinian’s students trying to form a union and get other girls’ schools in England to join them. They end up kidnapping a princess and then there’s mayhem. Most of this is nonsensical, and not in a good way. It genuinely felt like everyone was making this up as they went along and everyone got more and more bored in the process. Its clear distaste for organized labor also makes me give it the side-eye.

When watching movies or engaging with any media, I always try to think about who the intended audience is for a given work. Here, I think it’s just horny dads who needed to take their daughters to a movie. Or really, no one.

Really, I feel like the most notable thing about this is that Lisa Vanderpump is in it. Reading that on Wikipedia was much more entertaining than the rest of this movie.

St. Trinian’s (2007)

After a 27-year absence from the screen, St. Trinian’s returned with St. Trinian’s (2007, directed by Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson) which does a fairly adequate job of capturing Searle’s cartoons while filtering it through a mid-aughts “girl power” aesthetic.

Is this movie good? It’s a great slumber party movie. The cast is surprisingly good. The biggest names are probably Rupert Everett as the school headmistress, Camilla Fritton (bringing back Alastair Sim’s drag tradition) and Colin Firth as education minister Geoffrey. 

The younger women include Talulah Riley as Annabelle, Gemma Arterton as Head Girl Kelly, Lena Headey as English teacher Miss Dickinson and, well, just go look at the cast list. There are a lot of people you’ve heard of in this movie.

Annabelle is our perspective character and she first resists then embraces the chaotic spirit of St. Trinian’s. There is a lot of humor derived from the various cliques in the school and while everyone may not see eye to eye on various matters (including fashion), the girls are always willing to work together.

And that’s especially true when the school is sent a foreclosure notice. Instead of doing the right thing, the girls turn to crime and decide to steal Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring.

There are a lot of great lies and scams and hijinks and the pivot to a (very silly) heist movie is pretty delightful. These are girls I rooted for and I liked seeing them getting away with doing the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s all playful and colorful with a cast that seems like it’s having fun and understands the material. Sometimes that’s enough for a movie to be a success.

There is a less successful sequel, St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, from 2009. It’s more of the same, except not as good. I watched it once a few years ago but don’t remember much about it other than I was disappointed.

While a third sequel was planned, there has been no movement on that since 2010. But given that it’s been 13 years since the last St. Trinian’s movie, I do feel like we’re getting closer to seeing another version some time soon.

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