By Owen Gleiberman
Updated October 21, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Albert Finney gives one of his towering, anguished-bulldog performances in THE BROWNING VERSION (Paramount, R), an update of Terence Rattigan’s play about a curmudgeonly British secondary-school teacher who comes to realize he’s a failure. Finney is a master at letting us glimpse the bruised heart of a man like Andrew Crocker-Harris, who has used his devotion to the classics to bury his own identity. When Taplow (Ben Silverstone), the one student who appreciates him, gives him a farewell present, a lovingly inscribed version of Robert Browning’s translation of Agamemnon, Finney cries — softly — like a well that’s been dried up for 40 years. It’s a moment to make the audience weep too. Yet Finney understands the character better than the filmmakers do. The Browning Version subjects its anemic-souled hero to one petty humiliation after another, and too many of the details aren’t convincing — least of all his marriage to a sensually hungry younger woman (Greta Scacchi) who, in this day and age, would have left him long ago. Finney is great, but the tragedy of high-minded British stuffiness isn’t what it used to be. B-