At the center of Mädchen in Uniform is Manuela von Meinhardis (Romy Schneider), a young girl who finds herself orphaned after her mother passes away. She is sent to the care of her shrewish and indifferent aunt, who desires to get the girl off her hands as quickly as possible. Manuela is shipped off to a strict, Prussian boarding school in Potsdam that is run more like a military boot camp. Discipline and conformity rule the country and the school, and are the dictum of all authority figures except one: The artistically inclined, free-spirited Miss von Bernberg (Lilli Palmer) puts inspiration and autonomy into the girls’ spirits, and Manuela takes a particular shine to the instructor. However, Elisabeth Bernberg’s feelings are more maternal than romantic towards her besotted student.
An emboldened Manuela auditions for the role of Romeo in the school’s staging of Romeo and Juliet, and a drunken mishap causes the girl to make a public confession of love to her favorite teacher at the play’s afterparty, which leads to unspeakable scandal. The headmistress (Therese Giehse) recommends Manuela be sent to an asylum and that Miss von Bernberg resign effective immediately. Brokenhearted, Manuela threatens to commit suicide, and her first attempt lands her in a sanatorium. To console her, the headmistress pays her a visit and in a rare display of sympathy, asks Miss von Bernberg to remain at her post.
“This is a lesbian classic that doesn’t need to rely on camp or nostalgia to be meaningful and powerful.”
— After Ellen
“It’s Romy Schneider who shines here, and is still mourned in Germany as one of their most beloved actresses.”
— Black Hole
“Like the best of the American melodramas of the period, the screenplay for the 1958 “Mädchen in Uniform” is a skillfully arranged improvement over the original.”
— Forgotten Films
Did You Know?
Mädchen in Uniform is one of the few films, along with The Women (1939) that can boast an all-female cast. This is not the first time Lilli Palmer has portrayed an alluring schoolteacher — Elisabeth von Bernberg is a slight variation on her previous role as an openly gay teacher in the Spanish film The House That Screamed (La residencia). Review our Gay Themed Films Here