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Film / To Sir, with Love

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Trailers Always Lie, and in this case, that's a crying shame. This is the poster for the US release, as the term fresh in this context is unknown in the UK.

To Sir, with Love is a 1967 British drama film starring Sidney Poitier that deals with social and racial issues at a secondary school in inner-city London. James Clavell both directed and wrote the film's screenplay, adapted from the semi-autobiographical 1959 novel of the same name by E. R. Braithwaite.

Poitier plays Mark Thackeray, a teacher originally from British Guiana, now Guyana, who has recently moved from the United States. The plot centers primarily around Thackeray's idealism clashing with his teenage pupils' cynicism.

Poitier also starred in the 1996 made-for-TV sequel To Sir With Love II, in which a retired Thackeray returns to the U.S. to teach in an inner-city high school in Chicago. It was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and featured brief cameos from actors Judy Geeson and Lulu reprising their original roles.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: ER Braithwaite becomes Mark Thackeray.
  • Apathetic Teacher: Mr. Weston.
  • Bowdlerise: The movie downplays an ongoing theme of Braithwaite's book, the hidden racism in British society. The book opens with a woman refusing to sit next to Braithwaite on a bus, whereas the movie has two women cheerfully joking with Thackeray on the bus. There's also no mention that the reason he's working as a teacher in the first place is no one will give him a job as an engineer, despite being better qualified than most white applicants.
  • Cool Teacher: The class eventually sees Thackeray as this.
  • Darkest Hour: After his advise towards Pamela on giving her mother another chance, it only caused him and his race to be a Broken Pedestal towards Pamela, finally completely ostracized Thackeray from his class to a point he now thinks there is no future for him as a teacher and prepares to resign from his occupation and give up trying to connect with the youths as he accepts to move on to his original goal of becoming an engineer. However, when Denham attempts goad Thackeray into a boxing match to hurt him out of spite and to convince him to resign from teaching earlier, Thackeray manages to defeat him in both self-defense and having enough of Denham's antagonism, which in turn causing the class to finally look up to Thackeray again as a Rebuilt Pedestal.
  • Defeat Means Respect: Denham remains stubbornly opposed to Thackeray even after the other students have accepted him. Then he goads Thackeray into a boxing match and gets knocked down with a gut punch. After that (and after Thackeray suggests getting a job teaching the younger students to box), Denham openly expresses his admiration to the rest of the class.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Thackeray has one of these after finding the "disgusting object." He heads into the staff room, rants angrily about his students to the female teacher, and halfway through realizes that the lessons he's been teaching them are absolutely useless for preparing the class for adulthood.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: After trying their damnedest to kick Thackeray out of school as their teacher and get him to resign throughout the film with their resistance, the class finally looks up to him by the end of the movie.
  • Guyana: Thackeray's country of origin.
  • Heel Realization: The class after Thackeray blasts them for their behavior.
  • High Turnover Rate: Thackeray was the latest in a long line of teachers to attempt to teach the class.
  • Hot for Teacher: An example where the teacher is somewhat disturbed to learn that his student has a crush on him.
  • I Choose to Stay: The film ends with Thackeray ripping up his acceptance letter for an engineering job, choosing to remain a teacher.
  • Inner City School:
    • The British version of one, working-class kids with a few minorities.
    • The one in the sequel was located in Chicago with a mix of Black, White and Hispanic kids.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: When the students ask what he could know about being poor, Thackeray says that he's been flat-broke, and reveals that he didn't always have a posh accent either.
  • Only in It for the Money: Thackeray only applies for the job because he can't get a job as an engineer.
  • Photo Montage: When Thackeray takes the kids to a museum, set to the Title Theme Tune by Lulu.
    • The scene made a virtue out of necessity; the British Museum would only permit still photography.
  • Primal Scene: Pamela's mother sheepishly admits that she and her daughter are estranged because Pam walked in on her with one of her boyfriends.
  • Rage Breaking Point: After calmly enduring all the disruptions and disrespect, Thackeray unleashes his anger when he sees that the smoking classroom heater is because of a "disgusting object" the female students put in it. (It's not identified in the film, but in the novel it's a used sanitary napkin.)
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Thackeray finally gets fed up with the students' behavior after the incident mentioned above and proceeds to give the female students an epic rant about how disgusted he is with their sluttish and unladylike behavior.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Inverted. Braithwaite's courtship of and eventual engagement to Gillian is downgraded to him being oblivious to her obvious interest in him. Though a line from the sequel indicates that they married.
  • Save Our Students: Thackeray's goal.
  • Slut-Shaming: Literally in the example cited above, when Thackeray tells the girls how sickened he is by their "sluttish behavior" and that "only a filthy slut would have done such a thing". He never uses the word again but later, there are milder examples as he gently, but firmly urges the girls to pay more attention to their personal hygiene and manner of dress.
    • It should be noted that while that is the exact quotation of the book, in British English (especially of the era), slut was a synonym for slob, and thus to be sluttish would also commonly be understood to be slovenly. This meaning isn't as ubiquitious today, however.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: There is one point where one of the students curse and get drowned out by the noise of a passing train.
  • Stern Teacher: Thackeray takes this stance at times.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: Recorded by Lulu, who plays Babs in the film, it's notable for being the only recording by a British artist to become a #1 hit in the U.S. while failing to chart at all its home country (where it was relegated to a B-side).
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Thackeray insists on the students calling him "Sir", but returns the favor by call them "Miss" or "Mr" and insisting that they do the same when talking to each other.
  • Title Drop: Thackeray is given a coffee cup (an unidentified object in the novel) with the title on the side, as Lulu performs the song in character for him.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Denham and his classmates after finally giving Thackeray the respect he should be given.
  • Tranquil Fury: Even when he loses his temper, Thackeray remains eloquent and doesn't resort to cursing, which surprises his students.
  • Where da White Women At?: Inverted. It's one of Thackeray's students who develops a crush on him. Meanwhile, he's oblivious to the similar feelings of one of his fellow teachers. Which is even more of an inversion, as in real life, Braithwaite married her.
  • You're Not My Father: Annoyed at the students insistence on using foul language to provoke him, Thackeray asks one if she's speaks like this when talking to her father. She name-drops this trope, adding "bleeding" for emphasis.