Mädchen in Uniform (PG) | Home Ents Review

Dir. Leontine Sagan, Germany, 1931, 89 mins, subtitled

Cast: Hertha Thiele, Dorothea Wieck, Emilia Unda

Review by Colin Dibben

This pioneering work of queer cinema tells the emotionally powerful story of a young teenager traumatised by life in a boarding school.

After the death of her mother, sensitive Manuela (Hertha Thiele) is sent off to a strict Prussian boarding school, run by the formidable authoritarian Principal (Emilia Unda).

The good news is that Manuela’s dormitory is overseen by a sympathetic teacher, Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck), who kisses all her girls goodnight.

Von Bernburg comes to fulfil an emotional need for Manuela. But when Manuela’s fondness for her teacher turns into a romantic attachment, it threatens to destroy the careful balance of power at the school, between the authoritarian Principal and her more liberal staff.

There are plenty of visually striking scenes of boarding school life in dormitory, bathroom, makeshift theatre and grand institutional stairwell.

But it’s the quiet, intimate scenes between Manuela and von Bernburg that have true emotional power.

Thiele is great as the needy, emotional teenager (playing 14 when herself 22). Ditto Wieck as the flame-eyed teacher whose formal reserve melts to reveal a warm heart. Unda plays the authoritarian Principal with some nuance, even when saying things like “Through discipline and hunger we will become great.”

The BFI brings this internationally acclaimed lesbian love story to the UK in high definition and on Blu-ray for the first time, with a host of extras:

  • Feature commentary by film historian Jenni Olson (2020)
  • Women and Sexuality in Weimar Cinema (2021, 13 mins): a new video essay by film critic Chrystel Oloukoï
  • The Kiss – The Women Who Made a Movie Masterpiece (2020, 103 mins, audio, selected episodes): writer and journalist Bibi Berki discusses the production history of Mädchen in Uniform and the exceptional women who made it
  • How To Be A Woman: a selection of treasures from the BFI National Archive, including Tilly and the Fire Engines (1911, 3 mins), Hints and Hobbies No.11 – ‘Hints to the Ladies on Jiu-Jitsu’ (1926, 4 mins), Day at St Christopher’s College and School (c1920s, 19 mins), 4 and 20 Fit Girls (1940, 11 mins)

Mädchen in Uniform is out on Blu-ray, DVD, iTunes and Amazon Prime on 8 March 2021.