Miss Mary (1986)



Director:  Mara Luisa Bemberg.

Starring:   Julie Christie (Mary Mulligan), Nacha Guevara (Mecha), Eduardo Pavlovsky (Alfredo), Gerardo Romano (Ernesto), Iris Marga (Mama Victoria), Guillermo Battaglia (Grandfather), Barbara Bunge (Teresa, child), Donald McIntire (Johnny), Sofa Viruboff (Carolina), Luisina Brando (Perla), Alberto Busaid, Georgina Parpagnoli, Richardo Hanglin, Carlos Pamplona, Nora Zinsky (Teresa, adult).

British governess sees the onslaught of a fascist government in Argentina. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Septeember 6, 1930.  A coup by Gen. Uriburu overthrows the democratic government of President Irigoyen.  The Argentine upper class supported this coup.  Through fraud and repression the Conservative Party remained in power for fifteen years.

Buenos Aires, 1930.  Married couple Mecha and Alfredo say good night to their children.  They are on their way to celebrate with General Uriburu.

October 16, 1945.  Miss Mary Mulligan, who was a governess for Mecha and Alfredo, remembers when she first came to Argentina.

Summer 1938.  Mary arrives on a train. She is met by Mecha's brother Ernesto who is the administrator of the estancia.  At the estate Mary meets Mecha and Alfredo, grandmother Victoria (Mecha's mother) and grandfather (Alfredo's father).   She is then introduced to the two children for whom she will be the governess: the youngest child, Teresa, and the middle child, Carolina.  And finally she meets the oldest child, Johnny.   Alfredo tells Mary that his daughters are hopeless and she should use the rod if necessary.  The girls have run off seven previous governesses.  The two girls present Mary with a present of what Mary calls Argentine perfume:  the girls' urine in a perfume bottle.

News arrives that in Spain the Spanish Republican army ("the reds") have captured Teruel. 

1945.  Mary is told to close her shutters.  Sounds of the chants of "Peron, Peron, Peron" sound in the background.

Flashback.  Carolina continuously asks a lot of very embarrassing questions of Miss Mary even after the governess censures the girl.  Carolina gets her knuckles rapped when she sews a penis on her male doll. 

1945.  A taxi driver refuses to take Miss Mary to the church where the wedding of Teresa is being held.  He tells her that the scum is out tonight and it is too dangerous to drive to the church. 

Flashback.  Newlywed Don Mateo dances with Mary.  When he drops her in his lousy dancing, another man, of brown complexion, helps her get to her feet.  He then starts to dance with her.  Mary shoves him away and shouts:  "Hands off you native!"  It seems Mary has the same prejudice against non-Europeans as the Argentines have.

1945.  Teresa gets married. 

Flashback.  Carolina teases Mary about being single.  She wants to know if Mary has ever been in love.  More specifically, she wants to know the identity of the soldier in the picture she keeps in her trunk.  Mary scolds Carolina for snooping, but Carolina reveals that it was Johnny who saw the picture.  Marry is shocked. It seems that Johnny has a thing for the teacher. 

Bad news arrives.  The poet politician Lugones has killed himself.  Ernesto is very upset about the death.  Later Alfredo starts caressing Ernesto's female guest.  His wife sees him and fires her pistol at him.  (Every night with a flashlight and a pistol she examines the grounds to make sure that no strangers are around the house.")  Carolina asks Mary:  "Is our family mad?  Do we have too much money?"  President Ortiz is sworn in. 

1945.  Mary leaves the wedding.  Again she hears calls of Peron.  She wonders:  "Who are these people?  Where are they coming from?"

Flashback.  Teresa sleeps with a young man named Turribio.  Her brother Johnny demands that Turribio do the right thing and marry his sister.  The arrangements are made.  At a gala event the wealthy manage to donate enough money to buy two ambulances for the British army. 

1945.  Mary asked Johnny to come and see her.  He arrives and tells her some stories of his two sisters.  At the upcoming wedding, Teresa wanted to back out of the event and asked her brother to help her.  He refused and told her she has to go ahead with the ceremony.  Too many people are expecting her to marry.  Carolina is mad at Johnny for his attitude and she leaves, refusing to stay for the wedding.  Johnny also tells Mary that Carolina is sick.  She drives all her suitors away.  Carolina uses so many big words that they can't understand her. 

Flashback.  It is Johnny's birthday party.  As his present, his Uncle Ernesto takes him to a whore house.  Johnny starts having sex with a prostitute, but he suddenly bolts from the house in a real hurry.  He returns home and awakens Mary.  He tells her that he loves her and, after some reluctance, Mary and he start kissing each other.  Johnny's mother is looking for him and calls around to different people.  Then she sees Johnny half-dressed and carrying the rest of his clothes sneaking back to his own room from Mary's room.  Mary is dismissed from her position as governess.  She leaves the house, with all three children very upset.   

1945.  But Mary did not go home.  She stayed in Argentina.  Johnny had worried a lot about her during the war, thinking that she was in the bombing of London.  Johnny asks why she asked him to visit her.  She tells him that she wanted to say good-bye.  The war is over and the soldiers are returning home, so she thinks she should also return.  (No doubt Peron's rise had something to do with it too.)

Mary leaves for England on a huge ocean liner. 

October 17, 1945.  Hundreds of thousands of chanting demonstrators demand Peron's release and he is released.  He then goes on to take full control of the government and establishes a fascist dictatorship.  Argentina changes forever.


The movie is o.k.  The political events in Argentina and the family events are not well integrated.  No sense of tension is established between the family (including Miss Mary) and the rise of fascism in Argentina.  It's as though important political events are taking place and yet they have no effect on the various members of the family.  The family is too passive in reaction to the terrible events.  Are they choosing to ignore the events or do the eventsreally have no effect on them whatsoever?  There are other movies about Argentina which do show a big impact on Argentine families.  Choose one of the others that deal with the sudden disappearance of innocent civilians arrested surreptitiously by the Argentine dictatorship.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)