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Mädchen in Uniform (1931), 98 minutes, is a German feature-length film based on the novel and play Gestern Und Heute by Christa Winsloe and directed by Leontine Sagan with significant artistic direction from Carl Froelich, who funded the film. Winsloe also wrote the screenplay and was on the set during filming.

It is noted as the first feature film to be produced with an openly pro-lesbian storyline and remains a cult film among lesbians.


  • Hertha Thiele as Manuela von Meinhardis
  • Dorothea Wieck as Governess Fräulein von Bernburg
  • Ellen Schwanneke as Ilse von Westhagen
  • Emilia Unda as Mother Fräulein von Nordeck zur Nidden, headmistress
  • Hedwig Schlichter as Fräulein von Kesten
  • Gertrud de Lalsky as her Excellency von Ehrenhardt, Manuela'a aunt
  • Marte Hein as duchess, Protector of the school
  • Lene Berdolt as Fräulein von Garschner
  • Lisi Scheerbach as Mademoiselle Oeuillet
  • Margory Bodker as Miss Evans
  • Erika Mann as Fräulein von Atems (or Attems)
  • Else Ehser as Elise, wardrobe mistress
  • Ilse Winter as Marga von Rasso
  • Charlotte Witthauer as Ilse von Treischke
  • Erika Biebrach as Lilli von Kattner
  • Ethel Reschke as Oda von Oldersleben
  • Annemarie von Rochhausen as Edelgard Komtessse von Mengsberg
  • Ilse Vigdor as Anneliese von Beckendorf
  • Barabara Pirk as Mia von Wollin
  • Doris Thalmer (credited as Doar Thalmer) as Mariechen von Ecke


Winsloe's novel had previously appeared as a stage play under the title Ritter Nérestan (Knight Nérestan) in Leipzigmarker with Hertha Thiele and Claire Harden in the lead roles. After Leipzig the play was produced on the stage in Berlinmarker as Gestern und heute (Yesterday and Today) with a different cast and a more prominent lesbian theme, which was again toned down somewhat for the film.

Having mostly played the same roles on stage, the cast was able to produce the film at speed and on a low budget of RM55,000. It was largely shot at the Potsdammarker military orphanage, now a teacher training college for women. Carl Froelich's studio in Berlin-Tempelhofmarker was also used. The film's original working title was Gestern und heute but this was thought too insipid and changed to increase the chances of box-office success. Although sound had only been used for two years in cinema, it was used artfully.

The film was groundbreaking in a number of ways: firstly for its all-female cast; secondly for its sympathetic portrayal of lesbian pedagogical eros and homoeroticism revolving around the passionate love of a fourteen-year-old (Thiele) for her teacher (Dorothea Wieck); and thirdly for its co-operative and profit-sharing financial arrangements (although in practice these ultimately failed).

During an interview about the film decades later, Thiele said:
The whole of Mädchen in Uniform was set in the Empress Augusta boarding school, where Winsloe was educated.
Actually there really was a Manuela, who remained lame all of her life after she threw herself down the stairs.
She came to the premiere of the film.
I saw her from a distance, and at the time Winsloe told me, "The experience is one which I had to write from my heart."
Winsloe was a lesbian.

Thiele also said, "However, I really don't want to make a great deal of... or account for a film about lesbianism here. That's far from my mind, because the whole thing of course is also a revolt against the cruel Prussian education system."

After many screen tests, Winsloe had insisted that her friend Thiele play the lead role. Director Sagan would have preferred Gina Falckenberg who had done the role on stage in Berlin, but along with having played Manuela in Leipzig, Thiele had already played a young lesbian in Ferdinand Bruckner's stage play Die Kreatur (The Creature) and although twenty-three years old when filming began, she was considered to be more capable of portraying a fourteen-year-old.


The film had some impact in the Berlin lesbian clubs around Budapester Straße and Rankenstraße, but was largely eclipsed by the ongoing cult success of Der blaue Engel (1930). The film did however generate large amounts of fan-mail to the stars from all over Germany and was considered a success throughout much of Europe. The goodnight kiss Thiele received from Wieck was especially popular: one distributor even asked for more footage of other kisses like it to splice into prints of the film.

From its premiere at the Capitol cinema in Berlin until 1934 the film is said to have grossed some RM6,000,000. Despite the collective nature of the filming for which cast and crew received only a quarter of the normal wage, none saw a share of the 6,000,000 marks and Thiele later hinted that the profits had been mostly retained by the producers.

The film was distributed by Weissenbach outside Germany and was a huge success in Romaniamarker. During a 1980 interview Thiele said the school play scene caused a "longstockings and kissing" cult when the film was first shown there. It was also distributed in Japanmarker, the USAmarker (where it was first banned, then released in a heavily cut version), Englandmarker and Francemarker.

Mädchen in Uniform won the audience referendum for Best Technical Perfection at the Venice Film Festival in 1932 and received the Japanese Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Tokyo, 1934).

Later, an alternate ending which subtly pandered to pro-Nazi ideals enabled continued screening in German cinemas but eventually even this version of the film was banned as 'decadent' by the Nazi regime, which reportedly attempted to burn all of the existing prints but by then several had been dispersed around the world. Sagan and many others associated with the film fled Germany soon after the banning. Many of the cast and crew were Jewish and those who could not escape from Germany died in the camps. "You were only first aware that they were Jewish when fascism was there and you lost your friends," said Thiele, who left Germany in 1937. Assistant director Walter Supper killed himself when it became clear his Jewish wife would be arrested.

Despite its later banning, Mädchen in Uniform was followed by several German films about intimate relationships among women, such as Acht Mädels im Boot (1932) and Anna and Elisabeth (1933), which also starred Wieck and Thiele but was banned by the Nazis soon after its opening night, along with Ich für dich, du für mich (Me for You, You for Me, 1934).

The film is said to have inspired the 1949 novel Olivia by Dorothy Bussy, which treats very similar themes. There was a German remake in 1958, directed by Géza von Radványi and starring Lilli Palmer, Romy Schneider, Therese Giehse.

Surviving version

The film survived the war but was heavily censored until the 1970s and was not shown again in Germany until 1977 when it was screened on television there. It was later released in its surviving form as a videotape (with English subtitles) in the US (1994) and the UK (2000) by the British Film Institute. Even this version likely lacks some scenes and for a full understanding of what may have been censored, a viewing of the film might be followed with a reading of the original novel by Christa Winsloe (The Child Manuela. Virago Press, 1994)

Quotation from the film

  • "What you call sin, I call the great spirit of love, which takes a thousand forms."

Cultural references

  • In the film Henry & June (1990), this is one of the films shown in the small art-house theater frequented by the main characters.
  • The film Loving Annabelle (2006) was reportedly inspired by Mädchen in Uniform.

See also


  1. Klaus Johann: Grenze und Halt: Der Einzelne im "Haus der Regeln". Zur deutschsprachigen Internatsliteratur. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag, 2003

Further reading

  • Sara Gwenllian Jones. "'Mädchen in Uniform: the story of a film'". PerVersions: the international journal of gay and lesbian studies, issue 6, Winter 1995/96.
  • B. Ruby Rich. “From Repressive Tolerance to Erotic Liberation: Maedchen in Uniform,” Jump Cut, no. 24/25, Mar.1981 and Radical America, Vol 15 no 6, 1982; and also reprinted with additional material in B. Ruby Rich, Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998)
  • Loren Kruger, Lights and Shadows: The Autobiography of Leontine Sagan (Johannesburg, South Africa: Witwatersand University Press, 1996)

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