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Learning Guide to:

Heritage Topics: Drama/England; World/England;
Character Dev. Topics: Breaking Out; Romantic Relationships.


Age:12+; Not Rated; Comedy; 1938; 96 minutes; B & W; Available from Social Studies School Service. Order through this link for free shipping!

Description: This is a screen version of the George Bernard Shaw play which served as the basis for the musical My Fair Lady. The script for this movie was written by Shaw.

Pygmalion is a romantic comedy that portrays the efforts by a British professor of linguistics to teach a cockney flower girl to talk and behave like an upper class "English Lady."

Benefits: Pygmalion describes how a person's accent can determine his or her social status and economic opportunities. It also provides an introduction to the study of phonetics. Eliza demonstrates an inner strength that will not accept the dictates of a class system that denies the intrinsic value of the individual. Higgins is so involved with his studies that he denies the existence of human emotion. This black and white version is appropriate if your child has a positive reaction to "My Fair Lady" or is studying Greek myths in school.

Possible Problems: Alcohol use and smoking are shown. The ending in which Eliza returns to Henry Higgins despite his insistence on treating her like a servant is problematic and may disappoint if not infuriate children who have been raised at a time when gender equality is assumed. George Bernard Shaw also had a problem with this ending and wrote a sequel to the play in which Eliza marries Freddie. See Sequel: What Happened Afterwards.

Awards: 1938 Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; 1938 Venice Film Festival Awards: Best Actor (Howard); 1938 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Howard), Best Actress (Hiller).

Featured Actors: Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Wilfred Lawson, Marie Lohr.

Director: Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith.


Helpful Background:

  • See Learning Guide to My Fair Lady.

  • George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was an internationally acclaimed Irish playwright and a devout socialist. After bouncing from one failed career attempt to another he started to write plays. At this he was a master. He made his American debut with Man and Superman, which was an immediate hit. Between 1895 and 1939 he wrote 49 successful plays each of which contained a message of social significance. He only allowed two of his plays to become movies, Pygmalion and Major Barbara. George Bernard Shaw won the Noble prize for literature in 1925. His other major works include Caesar and Cleopatra (1906), Androcles and the Lion (1912), Back to Methuselah (1921), and St. Joan (1923).

  • Pygmalion, in Greek mythology, was a sculptor who made a beautiful marble statue of a woman. He named it Galatea. The statue was so beautiful that he fell in love with it. He doted on the statue, perfected it, dressed it, gave it jewelry and talked to it. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, took notice of Pygmalion. She granted Galatea life and instructed her to love Pygmalion. Galatea and Pygmalion were married and lived happily to the end of Pygmalion's days. Shaw adapted this myth to Victorian England.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Words and phrases: dialect; gutter snipe, middle class morality, phonetics.
  2. Why did Professor Higgins decide to teach Eliza to speak like a "Lady?" Was this fair to Eliza?
  3. Who do you think learned more from the experiment, Professor Higgins or Eliza? What do you think each of them learned?
  4. Compare the story line in this movie with the story of My Fair Lady. What are the differences?
  5. [ Standard Questions ]
Bridges to Reading: None.

Other Movies on Related Topics: My Fair Lady.

Links to the Internet: See The George Bernard Shaw Page .

PYGMALIO N is available from Social Studies School Service. Order through this link for free shipping!
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