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Tea in the Movies — “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”

A classic novel often gets made into a movie, and some get made into movies more than once. Such is it with Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Time to steep up a classic tea and take a gander at what is to me the best version.

Tea time at Mr. Chips’ house (Yahoo! Images)
Tea time at Mr. Chips’ house (Yahoo! Images)

First, the tea. We need one worthy of such a portrayal of life in an English boarding school for boys (said to have been the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novel series). It has to be rich, full-bodied, and with a flavor that lasts from that first “golden pour” to that final cupful. The one that immediately springs to mind is Scottish Breakfast — that favorite both of me and my hubby but also to many other imbibers of the second most popular beverage on the planet after water.

The kettle is on, the DVD is queued up to our favorite tea scene in the movie (actually, the first of two), and we’ve opened up a fresh package of Mr Kipling Bakewell Slices. All is ready. Once the tea is steeped, we pour out a cuppa each and hit the “Play” button.

The basic story, for those who may not know it, is of a man (Mr. Chipping aka “Mr. Chips”) who takes the post of instructor of Latin at a boy’s boarding school in England. He gets off to a rocky start and almost leaves, making enemies of his pupils over keeping the star player away from a key cricket match. But he “gets on” as he says. A few years later, he and another instructor take a holiday in the Alps and meet two women touring. One of them is a beautiful young woman with whom he falls in love and then marries. He brings her back to the school with everyone expecting his wife to be rather plain and dowdy. Her beauty, charm, and lively spirit win their hearts. Now here comes that wonderful tea scene.

Her first day at the school, she invites his pupils to their quarters for afternoon tea. They are gathered around, drinking cups of tea and finishing off cakes and buns and other treats. Suddenly, they are all laughing and happy and seeing their days at the school and “Mr. Chips” in a whole new light. And Mr. Chipping lightens up, too, encouraged by his wife to use the wit she sees in him as a way to liven up those Latin classes. Sadly, Mrs. Chipping dies, but he goes on without her in body but with her in spirit. Time for that second wonderful tea scene.

It’s decades later, a world war has come and gone, Mr. Chipping had served as headmaster but is now very old and retired. He lives comfortably in a little house not too far from the school. As a prank, two older boys encourage a first year boy to go up to his front door, ring the bell, and tell Mr. Chips he had come as expected. “Chips” invites the boy in, fully aware of the trick the older boys were trying to play, and tells him he’s just in time for tea. There before the crackling wood fire is a table laden with a teapot and a wonderful iced cake. He shares this with the boy, learning that he is the latest in a long line of boys from that same family who have attended that school. The tea time ends with one of the most heart-tugging scenes in moviedom. The boy thanks him for the tea, says he needs to get back and isn’t afraid of the new school anymore, pauses at the front door, and looks totally angelic as he says, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips!”

Excuse me while I grab a tissue here…that scene always gets me…

Well, the pot is empty and all the Bakewells have been eaten, so I guess it’s good that the movie is over. Time to get back to the day’s activities and plan the next tea movie viewing.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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