Based on the 1934 play by Lillian Hellman, The Children's Hour is set at an exclusive girl's school managed by best friends Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. When student Karen Balkin is punished for one of her many misdeeds, the mean-spirited youngster rushes to her wealthy aunt Fay Bainter, and, randomly choosing a phrase she has undoubtedly read in some magazine, accuses Hepburn and MacLaine of having an "unnatural relationship." As Balkin's lies grow in viciousness, the student's parents withdraw their children from the school. Hepburn and MacLaine sue Bainter for libel, only to lose their case when MacLaine's aunt Miriam Hopkins refuses to testify as a character witness. The trial takes its toll on the relationship between Hepburn and her boyfriend James Garner. When Bainter discovers that her niece has been lying, she tries to make amends, but it is too late. Director William Wyler had also helmed the first film version of Children's Hour, 1936's These Three, which due to censorship restrictions of the time did without the lesbian angle (the little girl's accusations involved a supposed romantic triangle between the two ladies and a male friend). Miriam Hopkins, who plays a supporting role in The Children's Hour, originally essayed the Shirley MacLaine role in These Three.
by Hal Erickson synopsis