The Browning Version: Regrets and Remorse

I have developed a taste for 1950s’ films. Unlike today’s epics, they cannot hide poor scripts and ham acting behind special effects. I was particularly attracted to The Browning Version (1951), a film about a teacher in an English public school.

Mr Crocker-Harris is a miserable old curmudgeon, despised by pupils and staff alike. His melancholy is compounded by impending retirement because of ill-health and an unfaithful, two-faced wife. The story begins in ‘Old Croc’s’ last days at the school. 

One pupil, Taplow, whom he has previously disdained, offers him a leaving present: Robert Browning’s version of the Agamemnon, a work which a young Crocker-Harris had begun to translate in his youth. The hard-faced Classics master is touched and warmed by the gift, and delivers an extempore leaving speech in the final assembly, during which he apologises for his sullen demeanour. In return, he receives applause, cheers and an ovation from the pupils.

It’s a simple, heart-warming story, and a wonderful lesson for all educators. The tragedy is that this man was not the stone-hearted disciplinarian he allowed himself to become; he left the profession regretting the opportunities he had missed, the relationships never made, and the love of learning seldom transmitted. Unbelievers can look back at their lives with regret, believing they only had one shot, and that was it. Did you spend long enough with the children as they grew up? Did you lose a sweetheart? Did you never seize that opportunity? Did you never apply for that promotion? What if? What if? What if?

Whether looking back creates pride in having done well, or regret for having messed up, the end result is the same. For the believers, however, this short life is only the start. Apart from our conversions, the highlight of our lives is still to come. We need not look back with remorse or disappointment, but rather look forward to wonders not yet comprehended:

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Revelation 20:6

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay