A heart-warming doco about a special Irish school by Richard Jones

A look at School Life (PG)

schoollifeJohn and Amanda Leyden are nearing the end of their 40-year teaching career at a special boarding school in Ireland.

They’re members of staff at Headfort, the only primary age boarding school in all of Ireland and a multi-national prep. school at that.

Amanda has a passionate love of literature and is also in charge of the school’s annual theatre production while John teaches Latin, maths and scripture.

In addition John runs the music school as the more keen and talented of his group form a rock band, with vocalists.

“Can’t anyone play the drums?” he moans as the eager youngsters congregate in the graffiti-covered studio.

As it happens Eliza, a shy and withdrawn student who hardly ever speaks, has drumming skills nobody knew about.

John’s gentle sarcasm about his students’ musical abilities – “that wasn’t entirely bad” – hides his caring nature.

Meanwhile Amanda helps cheeky but mildly dyslexic Ted to play the past of the ghost in Hamlet, the school’s production scheduled for the week preceding graduation.

He pulls it off to great acclaim.

Both teachers assist Florie a student they’re really worried about. She’d been a child model in London and both John and Amanda are concerned about the emotional scarring that experience might have left on Florie.

Their support bolsters Florie’s confidence. She wins three awards at the annual speech day.

Outside the classrooms and music school the children have a busy life. We see both girls and boys playing soccer and the boys playing rugby union.

Loads of them head for the forests surrounding Headfort, climbing high into the branches to collect freshly budding flowers, building forts and exploring deep into the woods.

It’s the spring term.

Yet considering the rest of the facilities available to them in the heritage school the children’s dormitories seem pretty rudimentary.

Headmaster Dermot Dix is a former student at Headfort and was taught by both Amanda and John Leyden.

We as audience members have to remember the students at Headfort, aged between seven and 13, are privileged children most of them destined to move on to elite secondary schools.

Indeed on the last day of school we learn that two boys have won significant scholarships: one to Eton and one to Harrow.

Those two institutions rank as the two most significant schools in Great Britain with places there among the most sought after in the world.

The Leydens teach a wide range of students. Some are French nationals, a few clearly have African parents while there’s a handful from the United States.

A couple of jarring scenes in an otherwise uplifting and heart-warming movie: one of Amanda’s three dogs, a black Labrador, licks the inside of a tea mug he’s brought down from a bench.

Early on with Amanda eating her breakfast at home before leaving for classes the same dog is sitting on the dining room table, just a metre or so from the teacher’s cereal bowl. Yuk!

And surely John could have occasionally used a comb or a brush to tame his unruly crop of long, wispy hair hanging down into his shirt collar.

But these are small criticisms about a movie with such a lot to offer, leaving us with quite a bit to think about later as all good movies should.


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