Term of Trial (1962)


A kindhearted middle-aged teacher, played by Sir Laurence Olivier (Wuthering Heights), is falsely accused of raping one of his students. The teacher’s working-class town quickly turns against the dedicated educator and even his wife, played by French actress Simone Signoret (Ship of Fools), doubts his claims of innocence.

Reaction & Thoughts:

This multilayered British film covers a wide array of issues. It’s an incisive character study, a tragic coming-of-age story, an essay on proletarian angst, a window into post-war malaise and a tense courtroom drama. All in all, Term of Trial is an ambitious piece of work that will give you a lot to think about.

Directed and written by Peter Glenville (Summer and Smoke) from a novel by James Barlow, Term of Trial was part of the British kitchen-sink-dramas of the late ’50s and early ’60s, which explored the British class system. These films tend to explore social issues from the point of view of young men. This one is particularly interesting because the entire story is told from the perspective of a middle-aged man.

Term of Trial follows in the footsteps of Tony Richardson’s 1960 film The Entertainer (also with Olivier), another story of a middle-aged man facing anguish and degradation. Both movies demonstrate that social alienation and working-class dissatisfaction aren’t really rooted in generational differences; it’s mostly the result of societal decay.

The cast is pretty awesome. “Lord Larry” is simply fantastic. This is one of his best, if less flashy performances. Olivier’s portrait of a simple, kind man nearly destroyed by a lie will break your heart. It’s an extraordinary exercise in restrained acting. He barely raises his voice yet he dominates the movie with his steely quietness.

Simone Signoret’s bitter wife adds another layer to the movie. Signoret’s scenes with Olivier are packed with organic electricity. Pre-stardom Terence Stamp (The Collector) plays one of Olivier’s troubled students — you can immediately see why he soon became a much sought-after talent. Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur) steals a few scenes as Olivier’s cunning lawyer. Sarah Miles (Ryan’s Daughter) makes an auspicious film debut as the student who accuses Olivier. It’s a cast to die for!

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Term of Trial should be better known. It has a potpourri of excellent actors. It also deals with many things that are still relevant today. A movie about a woman who falsely accuses a man of sexual impropriety might not fit well in today’s #MeToo revolution, but things like this do happen and the movie warns us that a rush to judgment can have fatal consequences. Don’t miss this one! B&W, 130 minutes, Not Rated.

6 responses to “Term of Trial (1962)

  1. You’re absolutely right: this one should be better known. I saw it in the mid-80s on cable TV and would very much like to revisit it. Certainly a timely film!

    Liked by 1 person

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