Major Barbara

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Major Barbara Movie Poster Image
Good intro to corporate social responsibility.
  • NR
  • 1941
  • 131 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References to alcohol abuse

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this classic drama has some references to alcohol abuse but is otherwise free of iffy content. But younger kids may not really understand the class issues that it addresses, so it's most age-appropriate for tweens and up.

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What's the story?

MAJOR BARBARA (Wendy Hiller) is a member of a mission devoted to saving souls, and she promotes temperance, non-violence, and socialism. Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), a classics professor, falls in love with her, but before she accepts his proposal, she insists that he must meet her family. He is surprised to find out that she is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Her father, Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), a munitions manufacturer, returns to the family after an absence of many years. She's disillusioned but understanding when her superior accepts funds fromher father's business, reasoning that despite their source, the money will do some good. Barbara visits the munitions factory and sees that her father is right about capitalism. It does not mean much when someone accepts her views in order to get food and shelter. But if she can persuade people simply by the force of her ideas, those are converts worth having. Furthermore, she can aid the poor by providing good jobs, good wages, and good benefits. Her father says that being a millionaire is his religion. Christianity is Barbara's religion, but she will pursue it through capitalism.

Is it any good?

More directly political than George Bernard Shaw's classic Pygmalion, Major Barbara provides a good opportunity for a discussion of what's now termed "corporate social responsibility." It addresses the role of the government, the church, and the corporation in meeting society's needs. Shaw, who co-wrote this movie's screenplay, was one of the 20th century's most brilliant writers, well known as a dramatist, essayist, critic, and social reformer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Among the many pleasures of his work are his superb female characters -- strong, intelligent, and principled.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about "corporate social responsibility," and the role of the government, the church, and the corporation in meeting society's needs. How socially responsible should corporations be? How should they balance the interests of employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, and the community? Who is in a better position to help society, government, religion, or business? Which kinds of help are each uniquely able to provide?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love classics

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