2013 TCM Classic Film Festival - TCL Chinese Theatre
In To Sir, with Love (1967), unemployed engineer Mark Thackeray (Sidney Potier) begins teaching at a working class London high school. There’s teased hair and miniskirts on the girls and leather jackets with Teddy boy quiffs on the boys. A few affect a mod look. They’re an unruly lot, “the worst of the worst” as one veteran teacher attempts to warn Mark.
With sympathetic understanding and tough love, Mark wins them over, but it’s a sometimes painful journey. A West Indian immigrant who taught himself to “speak posh,” he learns about English racial and class divisions first hand from his charges. Like his character, Poitier was raised in the Bahamas and worked at menial jobs before finding success as an actor. Ironically, one of his early roles was as a high school juvenile delinquent in Blackboard Jungle (1955).
Pamela (Judy Geeson), is a stylish blend of Marianne Faithfull and Julie Christie. Even Mark, who struggles to remain supportive but emotionally detached, admits as they’re saying goodbye that she’ll be “a smasher.” Michael Des Barres [Mulholland Drive (2001)] plays another of her classmates. Suzy Kendall is understated and practically dowdy as Gillian, a fellow teacher with a barely concealed crush on Mark.
Scotland born Lulu is Babs, a bubbly truth teller who sings the title track at the farewell dance. She’s a cute kid who gets by mainly on personality. As Lulu explained in the Q&A, writer/director James Clavell admired her “care less” spunk and cast her immediately. All she needed to do was hang out in London long enough to perfect her cockney accent.
Over the years, Lulu has evolved into a “smasher” herself as those of us in attendance can attest. Her heartfelt rendition of “To Sir With Love” was one of the highlights of the festival.