aclassapart2.gifProduction details 

 

Director: Nick Hurran, Screenplay: Tony Grounds, Cast: Jessie Wallace (Candy Jerome), Nathaniel Parker (Anthony Troth), Sanchez Adams (Kyle Jerome), Roger Allam (Deputy Headmaster), Juliet Aubrey (Olivia Troth) and George Cole (George). Running time: 90 minutes. First broadcast on March 23rd, 2007 on BBC One (UK)

 

Plot summary


Candy (Jessie Wallace) who's fighting hard to make a living as a single parent, decides to use extreme measures to make her dreams come true. She wants to get her son Kyle (Sanchez Adams) a high-grade education. Problem is though: she doesn't have the money nor the connections to get her son what she thinks is best for him. Another problem: her tearaway son isn't too keen on learning nor on getting a proper education. He's living in his reality and doesn't seem to care much about his own future because he feels that his options are limited. Last problem: she doesn't feel comfortable with posh things in general. Nonetheless in her despair she decides to chain herself to the gates of a school to get a place for her son in a prestigious establishment.

This story is also about Anthony (Nathaniel Parker) - a man who's been living in his posh upper-class scholar's ivory tower for decades. His world is all about giving his school boys a deeper understanding for rules, regulations and knowledge. Since he’s an ambitious headmaster he wants to make his school so elite that the word “posh” would be an understated phrase. He also delights in having sung his praise during teacher’s meetings. And it's about being "right" at all times, knowing all and feeling a little above things. Correcting things and people is his profession. He radiates a very high self-esteem which nurtures itself by his own high principles that have little to do with real fife in general.

Something more than the handcuffs clicks when Anthony observes Candy chaining herself to the gates of one posh upper-class school, trying to extort a place for her son. Anthony decides to arrange a place for that boy at his school, but not because he thinks that it might be a good idea to help Candy making her dream come true or giving her son a fair chance in life. It's because of a wager with his best-loved enemy at his school. As we will learn later, he's got good cause to have cross-talks with his rival (Roger Allam). But as things are in the ivory tower, some issues lie underground, simmering, and will never be spoken about openly. And since toffs are very conniving they don't fight physically as they should, they don't even battle it out in a cricket or tennis match - they decide to bet on the fate of a boy. Will he make it as a proper school-boy or won't he? Kyle becomes a means to an end.

Funny enough, the boy seems to be the last one who's been asked what he wants. Anthony has to work hard on Kyle to convince him that he's able to be as good as the other boys are, or even better if he really tries to. Anthony spices up Kyle’s placement test to get him a sponsorship so Candy doesn't have to pay for the school. And he gives him free private lessons before the school term starts. Sure, the new boy experiences a culture shock when different worlds collide. He does stand out as he doesn't mingle with the other boys. He's got his dear problems following the class properly. Eventually Kyle earns the respect of his teachers and mates alike and starts to feel more comfortable. On the other hand he separates from his old mates, the underdogs. And also from his mom, because she doesn’t fit in. As a matter of fact she stands out like a bloody thumb on all social occasions at school – and there are several of them. She doesn’t know the dress code and she unable to follow the small talk. And actually she doesn’t even care that she doesn’t fit in, because she dislikes the dishonesty of that lot. In the end Kyle avoids to meet his mom, because he adapted all too well. He is about to become the victim of what seems to be a strange experiment in social engineering or brainwashing.

Anthony realizes that irreconcilable worlds collide and that he himself feels very much attracted to the other side as to Candy respectively. He feels the compassion Candy has for her son, and he realizes that she's willing to do all she can (and even more) to make him feel part of an upper-class system. She does this by literally betraying her own roots and principles. As Anthony starts to sense that his own private life is silently falling apart he feels that he has to make a change to improve things for himself. But he remains in an almost passive attitude until Candy leaves him no other choice because she gives him a lesson in human decency in front of the whole school public. She's the one that draws hidden things into the sunlight.

Scandal is in the air and Anthony finally has to face up to what he initially started. He quits his job as headmaster and desperately tries to win back Candy's heart. In his attempt to do so, Candy and her family make it perfectly clear that they can live without Anthony's help and that actually he's the one who's in need of forgiveness and comfort. The final scene in which we see Candy breaking out into a triumphant smile while Anthony stands devastated in front of her house leaves everything open.

General Review

 

The story is an old one and it’s been told in a lot of tales. It's all about how parents try hard to make their own dreams come to life in their children's future. They struggle to give their children a better start in life. They desperately want them to avoid the mistakes they seemingly have made. Their dream is that they ought to climb the social ladder. Sometimes though this noble ambition might just lead into a complete disaster.

Read the open ending as a symbol of liberation from the heroine’s illusions that a posh school (or man for that matter) would solve her problems or fulfil her dreams. Or make of it that maybe if Anthony tried really hard (and truly accepts her way of living), she will give in to his wooing – who knows. Either way, disenchantment is in the air but not on a sad note, more with a feeling of enlightenment and emancipation for the heroine. She knows that she and her son will make their way with or without the help of Anthony. Of course it’s a rude awakening story for Anthony, too because a poor pauper won’t necessarily help the rich prince out of misery.

Hope on easy deliverance declined!


'A Class Apart' questions all main characters. They try to become something they are genuinely not. Of course this leads to confusion, decisions as well as beginnings and endings - as things are when you reach turning points in your life. It’s about becoming self-aware instead of simply feeling contrite.

Highlights of this made-for-TV movie are strongly symbolic scenes that work just fine. The burned-out car in front of Candy’s house first understood simply as a prop to underline the poor surroundings slowly becomes the melting-point of the story – it seems that almost all important dialogues happen right there and then. In a burned out car, not in a highly stylized surrounding. And then there’s Anthony’s school lawn, in the beginning his symbol for rules and regulations that actually chain him and in the end in his breaking out symbol, when he simply walks across that sacred piece of green with glee and his head held high. Not forgetting Candy who’s sinking her fag into the cherished green with the help of her stiletto heel.

Also, you’ll notice that there’s a flashback to Nat’s very early days in the movie business when he played Wilfred Owen in Jarman’s War Requiem. We observe a very impressive lecture on how the soldiers in the trenches must have felt during WWI by reading one of Siegfried Sassoon’s poems to his school-boys – it’s Suicide in the Trenches (1917). There are special ties between Owen and Sassoon, both met at Craiglockhart War Hospital recovering from their wounds before being sent back to the front. One survived, the other one died – for both this encounter was a turning point in their lives.

And please let’s not forget the hilarious fun scenes this film has. What a lovely miniature when Anthony tries to pick up a piece of paper that’s lying on the holy piece of green. The way he tries not to step on it and his sheer expression of triumph when he succeeds in picking it up without stepping onto the lawn reminds me of finest silent movie slapstick. And there’s more like that coming up. I mean did you ever imagine watching a headmaster jumping on a bouncy castle? How about kissing “your girl” for the first time, but while you’re way over 40 you’re still doing it like a 9 year old? There’s tons of lovely heart-warming stuff. I especially loved the sequence when George (George Cole) brings back Anthony’s stolen car with grin that says it all and the words: “Never nick from a nicker – butterfingers!”. Oh and don’t forget this: “Pump three and some numpty’s blocking the exit.”

And yes, there are script-weaknesses also. Take for example the often repeated standard scene when the poor but hearty heroine gives a lecture to the snobbish prince in front of his following – this has been used more than once. We know this scene and there are lots of variations on it. But here it’s been acted so well and convincingly that you accept it. Personally I would have loved to have seen this disenchantment scene in a more mature manner like the one in Lover Come Back. Doris Day hissing her “Oh Linus…” line to Rock Hudson’s scoundrel says it all. But that’s a matter of taste and of course it’s up to the script writer to choose his symbols and narratives to tell his story.

Side remarks

The English school system serves as a mere background for telling a coming-of-age novel for all involved. A strange social experiment brings a result that no-one would have expected: Candy realizes that her world is worth living in, whereas Anthony leaves his over-protected nest.

It is a congenial tale of catharsis, meaning that the author is trying to provoke a deep emotional shock to reach a state of mental cleansing or clarification in the audience’s mind. That’s all. The purpose of an actor is to tell the story the way it was conceived. It’s not the job of actors to prevent flawed dramatic scenes from being filmed. Their job is to portray even those failures in a believable way.

There has been harsh, unfair and in parts even derogatory echo in the British press mainly aimed at the actors, confusing their publicized alter-egos with the actual performance in this made-for-TV movie. Maybe it’s easier for a foreigner to judge on an obviously very emotional subject of national interest. Looking from the outside in, the British school system doesn’t ring a bell with most of us. In this case non-British viewers should be grateful for that. It makes it easier to comprehend the story as it was conceived: a dramatic, loving and revealing story about false understanding of social climbing and descent.

I had never expected it to be a thorough and realistic social film and surely it was never planned to be a semi-docu-drama on the British school system and its problems. Maybe it fell victim to high expectations some people had because of the fact that Tony Grounds wrote it. Chances are that most critics expected similar work to his former screenplays. This goes as well as for Jessie Wallace who’s simply a talented actress to my understanding and who’s done a very fine job in my eyes. I don’t know much about the British tabloid persona with the same name and frankly I don’t care about it.

Parts of the publicized texts (I refuse to call them reviews) have simply been fierce and unfair and aimed deliberately at a very personal level. More than that, some “critics” simply failed to do their job: they did explicitly not deal with the piece of art which is their job. Instead they bashed on the actors and actresses as well as on the story and the writer. Obviously some texts have been shattered by preconceptions. Sorry to have to say it: the money for some articles was earned too easy. Some journalists missed the point because they did not think about the movie, they wrote about their expectations. Worse than that they simply gave a synopsis of the film. I for my own part got my own theory about how some text-producers work, you might want to take a closer look at it right here – not omitting that I’m doing reviews, too.

Nat's review

 

“It's no good you trying to sit on the fence
And hope that the trouble will pass
'Cause sitting on fences can make you a pain in the ass"
Try Anything Once (Turn It Up!) - The Alan Parsons Project


Anthony is a posh character – but it isn’t another Lynley role for Nat. Anthony moves in a high-class surrounding but one cannot help feeling a bit sorry for him. Right from the start one does get the feeling that this character never really matured, something’s lacking in this man. He is a good teacher, trying new methods of education. We cannot help being convinced that he loves what he does.

The way Nat portrays him is quite genuine and there are new aspects in his acting that I haven’t seen so far. He does display arrogance but at the same time I sense an air of loss around him. He’s in his world, but yet he doesn’t feel home there. Nat shows us a man who’s about to experience an adventure of a lifetime – which sadly enough seems to be looking beyond his own nose.

Nat’s Anthony dares to do that but while he does it he isn’t instantly rewarded. Nat shows us a man in doubt about his life so far – not that he fails to do what’s right in his crisis. But he doesn’t know how to handle it. The expression on Anthony’s face when George tells him “And that’s it, is it? That’s all the fight you got in you?” is sheer and pure terror. He is determined to do something, but he doesn’t know how to deal with these real life people he’d love to call friends. But they simply refuse to cheer out loud with joy when he tries to join them even though he feels that he’s been doing a lot to impress them.

The high art of realizing that one doesn’t “deal with” people and serving everyone’s expectations is about to surface in Anthony’s life. It’s about accepting them as they are and to say “Yes” or “No” to certain people and styles. Do live with the certainty that you are safe with those you agreed to live with and do be sure that you won’t miss the other ones you lost somewhere along the line. The important thing is that you've made a decision and that you're talking about it and act accordingly. He’s highly disturbed about the fact that he’s unable to express his real feelings and expectations he has towards Candy. Self-determined dependency won when making an articulate and independent decision is the lesson he has to accept. Yes, it’s Immanuel Kant lurking around the corner…

This ride is especially hard for someone like Anthony who up to this day believed that he’s “untouchable”. Well no-one is an island. Yet again, Nat chose to play a difficult man. He questions rules and a life he knows. He’s brave enough to end a life’s lie in order to start all over again although he only has a small notion on how to do it. I’m not too sure if he will succeed – but his return to the place where people taught him an honest lesson is a good sign.

Status

Broadcast on March 23rd, 2007 on BBC One. Issued on DVD in Australia.

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