A novice teacher faces a class of rowdy, undisciplined working-class punks in this classic film that reflected some of the problems and fears of teens in the 60s. Sidney Poitier gives one of his finest performances as Mark Thackeray, an out-of-work engineer who turns to teaching in London's tough East End. The graduating class, led by Denham (Christian Roberts), Pamela (Judy Geeson) and Barbara (Lulu, who also sings the hit title song), sets out to destroy Thackeray as they did his predecessor by breaking his spirit. But Thackeray, no stranger to hostility, meets the challenge by treating the students as young adults who will soon enter a work force where they must stand or fall on their own. When offered an engineering job, Thackeray must decide if he wants to stay.
If there's one lesson to learn in life it is that every mind has something to offer if given a chance to thrive and to be taken seriously. ‘To Sir, With Love’ sets out to show how one meaningful individual can change the lives of many by offering such an opportunity. James Clavell’s adaptation of E.R. Braithwaite’s semi-autobiographical novel tells the tale of of an out of work engineer, Mark Thackeray played with incredible style and presence by Oscar winner Sidney Poitier who is given a chance to teach in a tough inner-city London school.
After several teachers had been driven to their breaking point and abandoned the post, Thackeray is given a seemingly impossible task of teaching some of the toughest students in London. With no prior teaching experience, Thackeray believes he can rely on his calm demeanor and his clear communication skills to tame these wilds. That was before he had to stand in front of them as a teacher. Lead by Denham, Christian Roberts, the classroom proceeds to push, prod, and punish Thackeray’s patience until he reaches his own breaking point.
Rather than run out on them, Thackeray hits on an untried method of reaching them. He stands up to this classroom of toughs by standing with them, rather than against them. These are young men and women who are about to finish school and enter the workforce without the skills necessary to survive let alone treat each other as adults. Few have an adequate ability to read, speak clearly, clean their clothes, or even cook a healthy meal. By teaching these children to act as adults and perform adult tasks, Thackeray earns their respect and admiration. If this plot sounds at all familiar it’s because it’s been revisited many times since in films like ‘Dead Poets Society’ or ‘Dangerous Minds.’ It also wasn’t the first story of an inspirational teacher - but it has stood the test of time as one of the best.
1967 proved to be a banner year for Sidney Poitier as movie screens were occupied with three of his best films, ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,’ ‘In The Heat Of The Night,’ and this film ‘To Sir, With Love.’ Each of these films addresses the issues of race and class in a unique way. Where ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ and ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ take on issues of race head on, ‘To Sir, With Love’ is far more subtle in its approach. Race relations are certainly an issue at hand - most notably present surrounding the buying and delivering of flowers to the funeral for a fellow student’s mother - but it isn’t the primary problem these students have with their new teacher. To them Thackeray is a “toff,” someone with means and money who doesn’t understand where they come from. Little do they know Thackeray is more like them than anyone they’ve encountered.
‘To Sir, With Love’ is a film that explores how socio-economics can play a hand in discrimination as much as the color of a person’s skin. Too often with success stories, the tale of where an individual comes from is often overlooked in favor of the grand achievements. Because few ever take the time to tell the whole story of who they are or where they came from, it becomes hard for an audience to view a person as genuine. Thackeray and therefore by extension author E.R. Braithwaite doesn’t hide behind success or presence or manner of speech - those are simply the tools used to reach out to people and bring them towards a common goal. Instead Thackeray is honest and upfront. If he doesn't know an answer he doesn't lie or hide, he says he doesn't know, but offers his own unique perspective.
On top of the dynamic presence of Poitier and the threatening tough guy Christian Roberts, the movie is populated with great performances by emerging talent. Names like Judy Geeson and Lulu would become stars in their own right and in this movie it’s very easy to see why. Most of the actor’s making up Thackeray’s class made their screen debut in this film. They were in charge of their own clothing, makeup and hairstyles - hence the reason why Lulu’s hair could change length from scene to scene. It’s easy to see they’re a group of raw talent that’s given a real chance to shine. As such, it’s an amazing shame that this film was so overlooked come Oscar consideration. Even Lulu’s breakout title number for the film while a sensation, ultimately failed to garner a nomination.
In spite of being snubbed for any number of deserved accolades, ‘To Sir, With Love’ stands as a fantastic film that continues to resonate 48 years later, and it’s easy to see why. It features outstanding performances from it’s cast, confident storytelling and direction, and some of the best pop tunes of the era. If you’ve never seen the film, you owe it to yourself to discover this 1960’s classic. If you’re already a fan, it never hurts to give this film another viewing as time can only offer more appreciation and context for this outstanding piece of work.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘To Sir, With Love’ comes to us via Twilight Time on a BD-50 disc housed in a standard keepcase limited to 3000 copies and is region free. The menu loads right away without any lag time for trailers. Also included with the liner notes is a fantastic essay by Julie Kirgo.
Twilight Time continues to showcase some of Sony’s best efforts on Blu-ray. This 1080p 1.85:1 presentation of ‘To Sir With Love’ is lightyears beyond any previous DVD presentation - especially if your copy was like mine and actually featured a ‘Gamera’ movie on the widescreen side. Film grain is visably present and it’s particularly noticeable during the opening credits and during the midpoint and end credits montages. This is a good thing since there hasn’t been any DNR applied leaving fine detail of the clothing and the worn brickwork of the school walls to remain thoroughly visible. Midrange and close up shots offer some real highlights for image clarity and detail.
The print appears to be in fine condition with only a few specks here and there and no apparent damage to speak of. Black levels and shadows are in fine order without any noticeable or detrimental crush issues.
This is a colorful movie to say the least and the full spectrum is allowed to pop here. Reds are bright and vibrant, as are blues and greens, particularly in the closing dance scene. This is a beautiful film-like restoration that should be a welcome sight to fans.
Sporting a crisp English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Track, ‘To Sir, With Love’ is given a full breath of life. As a dialogue heavy movie, voices come through clearly and maintain the midranges nicely. Here and there are some loud bangs of desktops or doors closing, but nothing so sever to blow out the mix. The audio is also free of any hisses, pops, or clicks as this film has clearly undergone a full AV restoration. For a mono track imaging remains clean as sound effects have the necessary space to live around the dialogue and Lulu’s signature song sounds like a fresh recording.
Likewise the Isolated Score Track presented here as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. A standard feature of most Twilight Time releases, this track is a boon for film score fans. You can hear composer’s Ron Grainer’s fine score unaccompanied with any other audio effects. To his credit it’s a score that works so subtly with the rest of the movie that during the scenes it’s hardly noticeable, but still elicits a great sense of emotion.
Twilight Time used to be known as a premium label with a lack of extras - in recent years they’ve gone a long way to rectify that aspect and ‘To Sir, With Love’ is no exception. The abundance of extras here should be enough to please just about everyone. The only noticeable absence here is any participation from Poitier himself, while that isn't a deal breaker by any means, it would have been nice to hear from the legendary actor.
Audio Commentaries -
To Sir, With Love Essay by Julie Kirgo In this essay, Kirgo offers fantastic insight into the production of the film and its lingering effects in modern cinema. Well worth the read.
Original Trailer (HD 3:17) This rough unrestored trailer should provide a level of appreciation for the restoration effort that went into the main feature. it’s a great piece of marketing history as well, considering how they really hung on Lulu and the pop music in addition to the film's star to sell it to audiences.
‘To Sir, With Love’ was a household favorite when I was growing up, but I hadn’t seen the film in full for at least 15 years. In that time I’ve grown lots, experienced much and can fully appreciate everything this classic film has to offer. Not only is it a compelling story based on true events, but it is also a showcase for some of the best and most overlooked performances. While awards don’t always equal greatness, this is a film that should be recognized for its accomplishments more than it already is. From lead star Sidney Poitier down, the cast brings their all. Twilight Time has done a masterful job bringing a beautiful, fresh restoration from Sony to Blu-ray along with a wonderfully robust assortment of extras. To say this disc is highly recommended is an understatement. If you're already a fan - it's a must own. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and give this beautiful disc a spin.