Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tea and Sympathy

Last weekend I watched Tea & Sympathy (1956) starring Deborah Kerr and John Kerr, which I had dvr'd from TCM. Had never heard of it before, and had no idea what to expect. I've never even been a big Deborah Kerr fan, so I wasn't counting on loving the movie or anything, but boy was I pleasantly surprised. Once again, this is one of those films that attempted to push the boundaries of acceptable subject matter for its time. The story follows the interactions of Deborah Kerr, a schoolteacher's wife, and John Kerr, a student at the boy's school who also dorms in a boarding house run by Deborah Kerr and her husband. The student is teased and called "Sister Boy" by the other (rotten) boys for his wretched offense of not fitting the traditionally masculine sterotype. He doesn't like sports or rough-housing, and would rather play music, study art, or read a book out in nature instead of joining in their lively games and (shallow) rituals.

I think the movie script would only allow for "Sister Boy" as the worst name to call poor John, because I doubt that calling him "gay" would've gotten past the censors, but clearly that is what is believed about him. If the movie had been made today, it probably would've gone with the idea of him being gay and followed that plot to the end, maybe even resulting in a successful suicide attempt, as that seems to be the way that so many of our modern gay movie characters have to go (remembering Lost & Delirious here). That's actually the end I was expecting, but instead I got to witness the intricacies of his bourgeoning infatuation with Deborah Kerr, as she was drawn to comfort and befriend him out of sympathy for the misery he had to endure simply for not fitting in the box. She herself was lonely and neglected by her all-too-masculine husband, who seemed to care more for his sports coaching than his wife.

John and Deborah's friendship, in their loneliness, leads to an affection that is hinted at turning into love. Deborah Kerr's husband begins to suspect that things are going a little too deep, and he becomes jealous and almost cruel in his actions towards both wife and student. He does nothing to help alleviate the teasing and resulting suffering of John, though it is certainly in his power to do so as a teacher and role model for the other boys. In the end, John is driven nearly to suicide, and in the aftermath Deborah is driven to seek him out and express to him just how much he means to her, wrong as it may be. She finds him alone in the woods in one of his quiet reading places, and utters the famous line, "Years from now, when you talk about this - and you will - be kind" as she gives him the long anticipated kiss. What a sad, wonderful ending.....only, it wasn't the end yet.

So shocking was this story's resolution, that the film-makers added sort of a disclaimer at the end in the form of a letter written by Deborah Kerr to her beloved student 10 years later in which she expresses regret for her runaway heart. This 1956 New York Times Tea & Sympathy movie review sums it up well by saying,

"Because the letter at the end, which brings the story into a ten-years-later reminiscent frame, is so prudish and unnecessary, we strongly suggest that you leave after Miss Kerr has reached her hand gently toward the boy and spoken the unforgettably poignant line, "Years from now, when you talk about this—and you will—be kind."

Well, I was so taken by this movie that I started Googling around about it, and found some fabulous vintage movie posters.

I even found this book, which I would LOVE to get my hands on as a collector's item.

And what do you know, there is a Tea & Sympathy British tea house in Greenwich Village, NYC. This place looks so cool, should I ever visit New York, I must go here!

They have all these really unique teapots, including this Alice in Wonderland teapot. Would love to own it!

The menu looks wonderful, all kinds of things I'd love to try like Afternoon Tea for One which includes "Assorted finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and strawberry or raspberry jam. A selection of cakes. A pot of steaming hot tea." All for just $35, haha. I bet the tea is delicious. Even if it's not, I'll take the atmosphere. Oh, and deliveries are made in this authentic London cab. I wonder how much the delivery charge is to Ohio? :)


  1. What a cool and excellent post! Of the hundreds of classic films I've seen over the years, I still have yet to see the Kerr's in TEA & SYMPATHY. After reading this blogpost, I want to. Great photos of the teahouse and unique teapot too.

  2. Thanks so much for the compliments! I do hope you will look it up and watch it, very worthwhile film.

  3. If you liked the film you should find a copy of the original broadway play script. I found one on amazon cheap and found it to be full of twists that the movie was not allowed to show. This play was on broadway for several years and was a great success...worth the extra effort!