Some films rise above cliché, or rather they take the clichés and make the most of them! This film, like ‘Dead Poets Society’, has some moments that steer close to sentimentality without overdoing it. The effect is uplifting and within the realms of realism.
This is another film set in the confining spaces of a private school. This one, in Ireland, is ruled by rugby. The boys who are good at sport are the top dogs and the misfits, like Ned, have to live with the taunts and insults; the biggest insult of all is to be called ‘gay’. Into this world comes Conor, a star rugby player from another school. His reputation precedes him as a great sportsman and a boy who fights all who annoy him. He aims to keep his head down but this is a school that desperately wants to win the title and they see Conor as the answer to their prayers.
Ned and Conor are made to share a room. The others sympathise that Conor must share with Ned but are then wrong footed when the two become friends. Ned is abused for being gay and Conor is actually gay. As the film progresses we see Conor deal with this identity conflict.
Add to the mix another ‘Dead Poets Society’ touch with an English teacher who inspires (some of) the pupils. Connor sees in him something of himself and tries to seek his help.
Andrew Scott plays the teacher and Nicholas Galitzine plays Conor. Fionn O’Shea plays Ned in this John Butler directed film. It is the type of movie that is feelgood without playing for easy laughs or simplistic endings. Ultimately, the film is about identity and acceptance and we can never have too many films that tackle homophobia.
This film from director Peter Weir dates back to 1989 and remains in my hinterland as it was the perfect reflection of creativity as a means of forging an identity. In a superior and self- regarding school in Vermont, USA in the 50s, a new English teacher is appointed. He, too, is a former pupil of the school so knows the expectations and the code of such an institution. Yet, he sees English Literature as the perfect model for teenage boys to learn about life. His teaching methods are unusual but they inspire one group of boys in particular.
Enamoured of their teacher, the boys research his time at the school to discover that he was part of a club- the ‘Dead Poets Society’ of the title. Without telling him, they re-form the club and use it to celebrate poetry and the idea of living life to the full.
I saw this film on the day of its release in UK and loved it. Over the many years since then, I have seen it from time to time and. while understanding that the conventions (and clichés) of Hollywood can be clearly seen, it is still a heartwarming film.
The idea that teachers can change lives is a key theme and so is the idea that enthusiasts can ignite interest in people who thought they might not be interested. So, too, is the idea that breaking out from conformity brings risks to all involved. The film caught Robin Williams, so good as the inspirational teacher, at the cusp of his career from comedian to more sentimental roles. His performance here is more restrained than some of the later crowd pleasing turns. The performances of the younger actors, Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke in particular, were also strong.
‘Dead Poets Society’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I enjoy reading about history but especially the less well known aspects of key events from the past. I thought I knew a lot about evacuees from London; my father was one, evacuated to Kent for the duration of the so- called phoney war and back in time for the Blitz! This history by Susan Soyinka is fascinating and uncovered areas I had not previously considered and revealed new facts. For example, there was highly efficient planning by the government for the evacuation of children from the larger cities but next to know co-ordination of their return. As a consequence, the authorities were unable to say with any certainty where children were.
The story told here is a specific one, though: Jewish children from the East End of London were evacuated with their school to Mousehole, beyond Penzance in Cornwall. The cultural change experienced by both locals and evacuees is related in an oral history that reveals the best of humanity as well as the resilience of people in times of war.
Many of the children from the Jews Free School were the ones who were not in the first wave of evacuation to Cambridgeshire. As bombs fell more often on London, they were sent away by their parents and Cornwall was the designated receiving area.
The memories are well handled by Susan Soyinka who is clear when inconsistencies arise or where memories conflict with the records. In part, the author shows us how she went about researching this history as she discusses her methods as well as her findings.
There are some remarkable insights into how the Jewish religious practices were kept alive in an area far from a synagogue and the story of the refugee children from Europe who, speaking no English, were also evacuated. Their suspicions of trains and train journeys were understandable.
‘East End to Land’s End’ is a fascinating book. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The final scene of this film moved me when I was a child. It all seems a little sentimental now but the moment when Ted Ray stepped out to face his pupils who had wrecked his chance of promotion to prevent him from leaving them is one of my all time favourite film moments.
I was a fan of the early Carry On films. This 1959 film was the third in the series that eventually totalled thirty-one. I saw it on British television in the 60s since it was released in cinemas before I was born! The black and white story of an ambitious headteacher who sees the arrival of inspectors as his opportunity to snatch the headship of a brand new school is a good one.
Two of his pupils overhear him telling a teacher that, should he get the job, there will be opportunities for others. They decide that the only way to keep their headteacher is to ensure the inspection is a disaster and they enlist their friends to make sure it is. The comedy comes from the thwarted efforts of the head to impress and the inability of the teachers to cope with the breakdown of order.
In the current British education system the inspectorate is a malign growth and there is little to amuse there but this is from a kinder age and the story leads to the final scene which I loved as a boy.
The ‘Carry On’ films continued into the 60s and 70s and I loved most of them until the bawdy humour became distasteful. Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and Charles Hawtry were favourites of mine but, in this film, Ted Ray was the star. It was his only ‘Carry on’ role.
‘Carry On Teacher’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This poem by Emily Dickinson reminds me of those days in English lessons as a teenager reading things that did not speak to my condition, only to lodge in my brain and come back to me at a time (and an age) when I made sense of it.
That Love Is All There Is
That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.
This documentary series, broadcast on ITV, was an important part of my education in current affairs and politics when I was growing up. The 30 minute programmes opened my eyes to global issues as well as the social situation in Britain. It ran from the early 60s until the 90s but I was most aware of it during the 70s, a decade when some of the most amazing programmes were broadcast.
The programme was created by ITV when it wore its regional and federal structure with pride, a situation that meant that different television companies contributed their best ideas to the network knowing there was competition in intellectual terms from the other companies in the ITV group. Maybe this is why ITV has dumbed down over the years at the same pace as it has become one company rather than a federation of regional franchises. Granada was the company in the Manchester and north-west region.
I encountered some of the most important journalists of my youth on this series, John Pilger the most notable. His films about Vietnam were excellent. I also remember programmes about the far right National Front party which was growing in the 70s and Gay Pride, a film from 1979.
This series was broadcast at a time when television treated its viewers as grown ups. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I first read Nigel Barley’s account of his early anthropology field work in the 80s, not long after it was published in paperback. I read it again recently; my new regime of picking books by random cards threw up ‘re-read a book from the shelf’ and this was the one I chose.
The strangest thing was that I remembered it as a very funny book but, on this re-reading, I could not find the comedy at all. It was still a worthwhile reading since most of the substance I had completely forgotten.
Nigel Barley entered field work among the Dowayo people of Cameroon in Africa. The book shows the reality of life in the field and the extent to which the very cultural differences being studied can, themselves, cause problems with conducting the research. He spent a year among the people learning about their culture, something which was built around the concept of becoming a man through circumcision. He also shows how hard it is to complete a study without affecting the community by his very presence. He writes well on the contradictions of ‘them watching me while me watching them’!
I was amused at the way Barley decided on the Duwayo people for his study. It owed more to the idea that other parts of the world were ‘already taken’ or tied up in war or strife. His ‘choice’ was a good one, though, since the differences were suitably remarkable from the tonal language to the extreme style of circumcision. His study of the people is less frustrating that his dealing with the state bureaucracy; he needs to stay on the right side of the law to obtain the permits and visas necessary to stay. After 18 months, leaving is also a bureaucratic process!
I was glad to re-read the book and was amazed that I remembered so little of the detail, remembering instead the theme and tone of the book. It made me wonder how many other books on my shelf would also stand a second go at reading them.