The Lesson (2015)

Review first published (in a different form) by Sight and Sound

With his mother dead, his father abroad and his older brother Jake (Tom Cox) eager to kick him out, Fin (Evan Bendall) is unloved, unsupported and in with a bad crowd of sexist, delinquent peers. On his sixteenth birthday his disgruntled English teacher Mr Gale (Robert Hands) finally cracks, and decides to teach Fin and his friend Joe (Rory Colhart) a hard lesson in the history of education, ethics and humanity. Fin and Joe’s survival is the carrot, and a range of domestic tools the stick – even as Jake’s Polish girlfriend Mia (Michaela Prchalová) alone looks for the missing teenager.

Binding didacticism with torture porn to nail home its points about the civilising role of pedagogy, Ruth Platt’s low-budget labour of love is so very smartly written, and so slippery in its message (given the psychosis of the messenger) that you can forgive the longueurs that bookend Gale’s captive class. A lament for lost potential and a plea for personal and national improvement, the film delivers its themes in the key words that Gale makes Fin look up in the dictionary under threat of agonising pain or worse – and Gale’s disciplinarian extremity yields unexpectedly rapid results in a pupil with a capacity for considerable, if hitherto untapped intelligence. Somewhere in this stinging dialectic we viewers too are confronted and tested to the limits on the value of literature and learning in a deprived, often depraved society.

Anton Bitel