Directed by Robert Enders
Written by Hugh Whitmore
Starring Glenda Jackson, Mona Washbourn, Alec McCowan, Trevor Howard
It's is absolutely no surprise that Stevie has been forgotten. It was barely noticed when it first came out, for obvious reasons: it's a biographical film about a poet. And not even a poet who lived a particularly interesting life: no struggles, no crises, just poetry. Yet the film is a tour de force for Glenda Jackson and Mona Washbourn.
Jackson plays real-life poet Stevie Smith, sort of a well-adjusted English Emily Dickinson. Smith spent her life working as a secretary, living with her aunt, and writing sharp, intelligent poetry, often on intriguing themes. For instance, her "Thoughts About the Person from Porlock" deals with the story of Coleridge and the writing of the poem "Kubla Khan." Coleridge wrote the beginning of the poem, was interrupted by a visitor from Porlock, and then couldn't finish it. Smith's poem questions the account, and that possibly Coleridge was just blaming the visitor for his own inability to complete it.
But enough poetry neep. If you love poetry, by all means seek out Smith's work. Back to the movie.
Jackson is wonderful in the role. We get to see Smith's love of life and of words as she quotes from her poems. But the real gem is Mona Washbourn as Smith's "Lion Aunt," the crusty older woman who is both friend and inspiration to her.
Trevor Howard acts as the narrator and plays most of the men in her life, though Alec McCowan is miscast as Smith's love interest. McCowan was over 50 at the time, and plays a character in his 20s, and a young twit, to boot. But that's a minor flaw.
The movie was based on a stage play and doesn't hide its stage roots. It was released in the US in 1978, and garnered a couple of Golden Globe nominations. But it didn't make it to New York for until 1981 (originally, for a single performance in a double bill!). Nevertheless, it won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Jackson.
I can imagine that no one could figure out how to promote it. Definitely not not high concept.
Stevie's director, Robert Enders, did nothing of note otherwise. But it doesn't matter -- it's not really a director's movie, anyway. Stevie is a true gem of a movie, and well worth discovering if you love poetry or life.