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12 November 2005, Great Britain

Set in the mid 1960s Mark Thackeray has arrived in the UK, as a black British Citizen. He is from a poor background, and has a degree in engineering. He cannot find a job, and decides to work as a teacher in the East End of London. He has had no training to teach. His class is in its final term, before the pupils move out into the world. The pupils are an interesting range of characters, initially defiant and challenging. The degree of antipathy and disruptive behavior look mild compared with today's images of classroom life in deprived areas, however the characteristics are the same.

Mr Thackeray illustrates and teaches dignity and self respect, and one by one wins the class over, with his charismatic steadiness, honesty and personal morality. His is not the extrovert "all together now" leadership of the teachers in "Dead Poet's Society" and "School of Rock", which tends to result in an "in crowd" and "out crowd". Mr Thackeray sets the pupils free to be true to themselves, to be in his words "adults". One of the female pupils tries to "stand too close", and he stands off, but in the ultimate scene, she has grown up and they can dance together in secure distance. Sidney Poitier fills the film with characteristic handsome dignity.
The themes around racial prejudice are handled subtly rather than head on. Britain in the 1960s is portrayed as a tolerant welcoming society, with the humor of humanity drawing people together. Comments about color and race are made out of inexperience, not out of prejudice. The main characters see through each others colors to their personalities. I could sense that Thackeray had experienced prejudice and grown through it, to his full character.

Of course the film is "romantic" and idealized, but that is partly how film has its impact, to over-emphasize the messages to ensure they get through. Definitely one of my top films!

There are some memorable quotes there.

"I don't know what you know, read from your workbooks" – a teacher must find out what the learner already knows.

"What they need is a good hiding" – the unsuccessful teacher recommends the bullying approach to class control.

He approaches the head about a class excursion "I would like to try…" demonstrating calm reasoned leadership.

"What would you like to talk about today?" – teacher gives control of the learning to the class, and this leads into discussion about marriage.

"I think marriage is no way of life for the weak, the selfish, or insecure." Just a brilliant quote!

"So long as we learn it does not matter who teaches us." Another wonderful quote.

"If you apologize because you are afraid, you are a child not a man." Another amazing quote.

"People make mistakes – everyone deserves a second chance."


Review B (1.3.7)

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