The Getting of Wisdom is a well-crafted literary adaptation about a country girl (Susannah Fowle), with the unlikely name of Laura Tweedle Rambotham, attending a snobbish city boarding school in the late nineteenth century. It’s not the feel-good story of a strong young woman taking on the gentry and winning, but a confused girl muddling through.After unsuccessfully trying to fit in, Laura’s eventual “wisdom” is that it’s not worth losing your individuality to join the group. But she also learns not to become too involved with the poor girls and misfits - that road leads to expulsion - and to repress her natural spirit in order to retain it and regain her freedom at the end of schooling.
The film is nicely directed (by Bruce Beresford) and photographed (by Donald McAlpine), but suffers from trailing two more successful Australian films about oppressive boarding schools (The Devil’s Playground and, especially, Picnic at Hanging Rock). Henry Handel Richardson, a pseudonym for Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, wrote the novel in 1910, based partly on her experiences at Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies College in the 1880s.
The Getting of Wisdom notably helped launch the careers of Sigrid Thornton, Noni Hazlehurst and Kerry Armstrong, among others. The cast features an against-type Barry Humphries as a stuffy principal and fine work from Patricia Kennedy as the gentler and quieter Miss Chapman, the most supportive of Laura’s teachers.Fowle never became a star, but she holds attention, even when the role requires her to be exasperatingly gawky and generally unlikeable.