To Sir, With Love (1967) is one of several movies in the good-teacher-vs-tough-students sub-genre. It stars Sidney Poitier as the well-intentioned Mr. Thackeray who winds up at a school in a rough part of London. Only 12 years earlier, Poitier had a supporting role as a tough student giving Glenn Ford a hard time in Blackboard Jungle (1955). Now the roles have been reversed and it is time for Poitier to contend with a bunch of young hoodlums raring to get out into the real world.
As a contemporary viewer who already has many of these types of films available to them, why should we watch To Sir, With Love (1967)? The main reason is Mr. Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) himself. His demeanor, his race, his modest sophistication and worldliness sets him apart from the poorly educated ruffians who populate his classroom. You feel sorry for him. He's got a tough job on his hands and he's only really there because he hasn't been able to find an engineering position. He has no teaching experience, everyone is expecting him to bail at any second and the rules state that all teachers must avoid corporal punishment at all costs. However, while watching this I got the sense that out of anyone Mr. Thackeray was well suited to tackle this problematic situation. Not just because that's how the story is supposed to go but because of his qualities as a person. However, you feel bad for his students too. They are disadvantaged youth and don't have bright futures ahead of them. Mr. Thackeray, or Sir as they call him, is a beacon of hope for them if they'd only open their eyes.
The story has a lot of heart and is a bit sentimental but never really cloying. Romance is part of the plot with both a young female student and a fellow teacher having the hots for Mr. Thackeray. And let's face it, the viewer has a crush on Thackeray/Poitier too. I know I did!
While watching this you also get to experience a young hip 1960s London. The music, dance, fashion and culture; it's all there. The cinematography isn't all that notable except for the fantastic intro and the scene in which the students go on a field trip to an art museum. I could watch both the intro and the museum scene over and over again, that is how cool they are!
All the students in the film are played by young British actors. The theme song, which shares the same title as the movie, is sung by 1960s British pop star Lulu who also plays one of the students. The song is a recurring theme throughout the film and is performed by Lulu in the movie as well.
To Sir, With Love is not a perfect movie but it is an enjoyable one. I was confused by the scene in which someone is burning an object in the classroom. After some research, I read it was a sanitary napkin. Mr. Thackeray is infuriated, kicks the boys out of the classroom and yells at the girls about their "sluttish" behavior. Sluttish here means female slovenliness and not promiscuousness. This scene will definitely confuse modern audiences without context.
As a side note, Lulu attended the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival and performed this song at the Vanity Fair party and at a showing of this film. I unfortunately missed both of these performances while attending other things, so when I got home from the festival I immediately put this film on my Netflix queue so I could watch it. From what I hear, her performances at the festival were wonderful and now having seen the film I'm really sad I missed them.
Fans of Brit-Coms will be happy to see Patricia Routledge who plays the supporting role of a concerned teacher who gives advice to Mr. Thackeray. Routledge is most known for her role as Mrs. Bucket (it's Bou-quet!) on Keeping Up Appearances.
To Sir, With Love (1967) is on DVD with limited availability. It will definitely be part of my next movie purchase because I want to snap this one up before it goes out of print.