A 60s Education
Mark Thackaray (Sydney Poitier) trained as an engineer but with no job and bills to pay he takes a job teaching at a rough East End school where the teachers are pessimistic and the kids are unruly. Mark finds it a tough place as he is unable to control his unruly class until he decides to take the brave decision to throw away the exercise book and start trying to teach the students about being adults. It works as the students who in turn are expected to treat each other with respect warm to being treated like adults and taught things which will be useful. The question is with the plan only to do teaching as a stop gap what will Mark do if a job in engineering comes along.
I've watched countless student-teacher movies over the years but "To Sir, with Love" so far is the oldest one I have come across. What is surprising is how beyond the era elements of the look and soundtrack how similar it is to more recent movies which focus on a teacher changing the life of a bunch of unruly students. As such it works through some familiar elements, the unruly class who don't want to learn and make life difficult because what they are taught is dull and boring leading to Thackaray finding a way to teach the kids something worthwhile and that interests them.
But "To Sir, With Love" has two extra elements which make it stand out starting with the unsurprising aspect of 60s racism in Britain as Thackaray is confronted by some intentional and some unintentional racism. It is incredibly well done because it shows the difference from just a poorly judged turn of phrase to intentional nastiness. But this also leads in to an interesting twist with a school girl crush on a teacher which Thackaray finds himself have to deal with quickly.
The thing about "To Sir, With Love" is that whilst still an entertaining movie it is also a generational movie which will have greater appeal to those who were either teenagers during the 60s or watched it when it came out. The young cast which includes Judy Geeson, Chris Chittell and Lulu alongside the 60s fashions and 60s music will still be a warm experience for those who lived the life on show in the movie. But that doesn't take anything away from the movie with a solid, moving and engaging performance from Sydney Poitier which instantly gets us on his side in a scene where he humorously deals with some chatty old women on a bus.
What this all boils down to is that "To Sir, With Love" is simply a teacher-student movie from the 60s and as such will have a greater appeal to those who can connect with the movies period which with a good soundtrack it is easy to do. But whilst special for those who grew up at the time it is still an entertaining teacher-student movie for new generations.